The City Council of Washington, D.C., has banned therapy for minors who seek to change their same-sex attraction or behavior. The District of Columbia joins the states of California and New Jersey in banning the practice.
Opponents of “sexual orientation change efforts” charge that the practice is dangerous and ineffective. The American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality out of its diagnostic manual many years ago, and the American Psychological Association voted in 1975 to cease considering same-sex attraction a mental health category.
Even so, licensed therapists have continued the practice of sexual orientation change efforts. But there is a move around the country and at the international level to make such efforts outside the scope of licensed practice, at least for minors.
In the DC bill, “A provider shall not engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a consumer who is a minor.” A violation “shall be considered a failure to conform to acceptable conduct within the mental health profession.” This means a therapist could lose his license to practice if he helps a youngster who wants to change his same-sex attraction.
Putting aside efforts to change orientation altogether, the bill also bans counseling for a youngster who simply wants to stop or even reduce homosexual behavior.
The bill says explicitly, however, that therapists may counsel youths who want to “transition from one gender to another.”
When the Southern Poverty Law Center brought a lawsuit against a New Jersey therapist who practiced sexual orientation change treatment, Dr. Nicholas Cummings published a column in USA Today in support of such treatment.
Cummings, the former head of the American Psychological Association, said his team at Kaiser Permanente treated 18,000 gay and lesbian patients, many of whom wanted to change their orientation or behavior. Out of 2,000 patients Cummings saw personally, he said that “hundreds were successful” in changing their orientation. Far from being “anti-gay,” Cummings was one of the co-sponsors of the resolution at the American Psychological Association who endorsed same-sex attraction.
Efforts to help those who have unwanted same-sex attraction or behavior are often labeled “praying away the gay.” The bill in D.C. and similar bills in California and New Jersey deal only with licensed therapy, distinct from religious approaches, which would likely be protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The D.C. City Council may not like “praying away the gay,” but it may continue nonetheless.