October 17, 2015

US Report Calls for Ban on Conversion Therapies for Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Youth

A short little update here on LGBT policies in the US, as it may help many of us gain some perspective on where the general consensus is right now as regards sexual diversity and gender variance.

The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has published a report on so-called "conversion therapies",  based on a thorough review of current research.

The expert panel was set up by SAMHSA and the American Psychological Association (APA) earlier this year, and included prominent American figures in LGBT human rights, policy, research, treatment, and advocacy.

"This groundbreaking report dispels widespread misconceptions about sexual and gender development and definitively concludes that treatments designed to change a child's sexual orientation or gender identity do not work, are devastatingly harmful to 'victims' of this type of therapy, and should not be considered appropriate mental health services," Dr. Celia B. Fisher, who served on the expert consensus panel says.

Conversion therapy does not work

Indeed, the main conclusions in the report are clear:
  • "Same-gender sexual orientation (including identity, behavior, and attraction) and variations in gender identity and gender expression are a part of the normal spectrum of human diversity and do not constitute a mental disorder.
  • "There is limited research on conversion therapy efforts among children and adolescents; however, none of the existing research supports the premise that mental or behavioral health interventions can alter gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • "Interventions aimed at a fixed outcome, such as gender conformity or heterosexual orientation, including those aimed at changing gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are coercive, can be harmful, and should not be part of behavioral health treatment."
Gender variance is not pathological

The message from the American Psychological Association is also clear: Being a sexual or
gender minority, or identifying as LGBTQ, is not pathological.


The report discuss different life trajectories of transgender people, but do not set them up against each other, or give them different status or value. Both early onset and late onset transgender people are included, and female to male as well as male to female.

Society causes distress

The report takes, as much research on transgender today, biological factors into consideration. But the expert panel is also very much aware of the way social forces shape the lives of transgender:
"While most adolescents with gender dysphoria score within normal ranges on psychological tests (...), some gender minority children and adolescents have elevated risk of depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues. These psychosocial issues are likely related to if not caused by negative social attitudes or rejection (...).

As with sexual minority adolescents, other issues of clinical relevance for gender minority adolescents include increased risk of experiencing victimization and violence, suicidal ideation and attempts, and homelessness."
Gender identity caused by interplay of factors

Indeed, the experts stress that the development of gender identity "appears to be the result of a complex interplay between biological, environmental, and psychological factors."

Leave room for LGBT youth

The basic principle for health care for LGBT youth is simply to give them room to find out for themselves who they are. The goal of the treatment should be "the best possible level of psychological functioning, rather than any specific gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation."

No support for transphobic science

As some of my readers will know, the extremist "autogynephilia"-tribe of sexology, Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey included, continue to argue for conversion therapy for feminine boys and those Blanchard call "sissies".  But then again they consider male to female transgender people mentally ill.

It is clear that they find little support for this in the research and health communities. Autogynephilia is not mentioned. They will also find little support for the idea that they, as scientists, somehow stand outside the realm of ethics. This expert panel is acutely aware of the ethical responsibilities of scientists and health care providers.

You can download the report here. It is an interesting read, as it gives a useful summary of the current status of research on sexuality and gender identity.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!