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ND House Bill 1332: Conversion Therapy

Last Word | March 8th, 2023

By Ken and Alice Christianson

submit@hpr1.com

HB 1332 is currently before the North Dakota legislature. The bill proposes to permit social workers to use a discredited treatment method to convert the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian persons to be heterosexual. The same method is proposed to change transgendered persons to the declared birth gender.

The treatment method, called conversion therapy, is proven to be ineffective and often dangerous. Mental health professionals have branded conversion therapy as unethical. Citizens of ND are urged to oppose this legislation to ensure the defeat of this misguided and dangerous bill.

The best science on sexual orientation teaches us that sexual orientation is not a choice. The biology that determines sexual orientation continues to be studied, and there is a great deal yet to be learned. What is clear is that gay and lesbian persons do not choose to be gay or lesbian. If you doubt this, ask yourself when you chose to be heterosexual. No such choice was made. Sexual orientation cannot be changed. The science on gender is similar. People do not choose gender identity.

We should introduce ourselves. Alice is a retired professional clinical counselor. Ken is a retired psychologist. We worked with gay, lesbian and transgendered persons and their families all of our careers in North Dakota.

Several years ago Alice devoted a year to researching conversion therapy, the method that is permitted by HB 1332. Then as now, right-wing conservative religious groups were promoting the lie that conversion therapy works.

The science literature is clear. Conversion therapy does not work, and it often does harm to gay, lesbian, or transgendered persons and their families. Many LGBT persons were coerced into marriage by these unethical fringe treatments. Often these marriages failed, and those that survived were empty relationships that left both persons defeated and trapped.

The gold standard of psychological treatment interventions is what we call “evidence based therapy.” To meet the criteria for that designation, a treatment must be subjected to years of carefully designed science experiments that are peer reviewed. Conversion therapy failed all of these tests.

Those delivering conversion therapy dress up their pseudo treatment with treatment methods and procedures that appear to be legitimate. They are not legitimate.

Conversion therapy includes behavioral management, aversion therapy such as electric shocks and aversive chemicals, self-talk, distraction, imagery, hypnosis, medications, hormone interventions, marriage counseling, chiropractic adjustments, dating heterosexual persons, and marriage.

Of course, religion is laced into all of this and includes prayer and exorcisms. Often the therapy proposes that prayer and submission to God will cure the sin. These methods may suppress the expression of sexual orientation for a while. But sexual orientation does not change.

Negative consequences of conversion therapy include feelings of failure, self-hatred, suicidal ideation and completed suicides, depression, anxiety, alienation from spirituality and faith, fractured relationships with parents and family, and deep mistrust of mental health professionals.

Those upholding HB 1332 claim to be helping with unethical methods that leave a trail of human destruction in their path. How could anyone support such disregard for those among us who are politically and socially vulnerable?

A key concept underlying professional ethics is “do no harm.” Mental health professionals are enjoined to be truthful and respect individual differences, such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

All mental health and health professionals have a code of ethics that would be violated by using conversion therapy. HB 1332 would give legal authority and state sanction to a practice that will harm citizens of North Dakota. Not one of us should abide by such a travesty.

Gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons want what all of us desire in life. They want to love and be loved. They want families and careers. They want to contribute to their communities. These persons populate all communities in North Dakota. They are our friends and neighbors. They want to live their lives in peace and enjoy the same rights and protections under the Constitution as everyone else. Our task is to get out of their way and let them do those normal and healthy things.

Those on the religious right, and politicians who grovel for their support, want to limit the civil rights of these citizens. They want to interfere with the rights of citizens to make private medical decisions in discussion with their doctors about what is best for their lives.

This fringe group thinks they know what’s best for gay, lesbian, and transgendered people. They want to impose their morality, which is not guided by science, on our fellow citizens. They thrive on pseudoscience and misinformation. They want to convince Americans that sexual orientation is a choice and a sin. It is not a choice. It is not a sin.

Write or call your legislator. Urge the defeat of HB 1332. Support our family members, friends and neighbors who are gay, lesbian, or transgendered. Support our mental health professionals who are doing their best to provide good and ethical care to them.

[Editor’s note: Alice Christianson, MA is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor. Ken Christianson Ph.D. Psychologist Emeritus MN, Psychologist Retired ND & AZ]

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