On March 10th, I had the opportunity to speak about my time in conversion therapy and our movement to end the practice at Out Leadership offices with a diverse audience of LGBTQ community leaders and corporate representatives.
The day before, Canada’s Minister of Justice introduced its groundbreaking legislation to prohibit conversion therapy nationwide, fulfilling a campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Spurred by our success in the United States the movement to end conversion therapy is gaining international momentum. Across the globe elected officials are realizing these practices cause serious harms and the urgency of stopping them.
Conversion therapy is the attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, with LGBTQ youth being our most vulnerable. A 2018 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that nearly 700K people in the United States have been through conversion therapy, more than half of them as minors. Conversion therapy is the ultimate form of rejection for any child and a major driver of suicide and other negative consequences such as depression and substance abuse. We named our organization Born Perfect as a reminder that nature intended us to be who we are.
After coming out to my father at 16, I started a painful 5 year journey in so-called “conversion therapy” [read Mathew’s full story in that 2018 Guardian article].
To date, all leading mental health and medical associations have condemned the use of conversion therapy, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many others.
Yet, as I mentioned during my talk, conversion therapy is quietly thriving in many US states. In fact, because the practice has come under increasing scrutiny, providers frequently change their terminology to avoid detection and often remain underground, using a network of pastors and other religious leaders to drive their clientele to licensed professionals. Together with GLAAD we have highlighted the recent emergence of new terms to hide these harmful practices. Because conversion therapy is not a legitimate psychological treatment, there are no professional standards or guidelines for how it is conducted. As a result, therapists often come up with emotionally abusive and extreme methods, with disastrous consequences for their clients.
Twenty states, including New York, have passed legislation to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. Our goal is to end conversion therapy globally, which is essential to ensuring equality for all LGBTQ people. By addressing the core misconception that being LGBTQ is a choice rather than a fundamental part of human identity, we can build public support and make progress on all fronts, including the current push for anti-discrimination laws and protections for transgender individuals.
The private sector, including both licensed professionals and unlicensed individuals are a major factor in the continued existence of conversion therapy. Profits made by exploiting vulnerable LGBTQ people and their families can be significant. Unethical therapists’ prey upon vulnerable parents, claiming that they can prevent their child from becoming LGBTQ or change them from gay to straight or transgender to cisgender. My parents spent thousands of dollars on my “therapy,” paying four different therapists a total of thirty-five thousand dollars.
The private sector has an opportunity to be part of the solution. The nationwide campaign to ban conversion therapy is the fastest growing and most successful LGBTQ campaign in country and is growing globally. Yet it is extremely underfunded.
On Tuesday, I called on more companies to “act in the public sphere” by supporting our fight to bring laws banning conversion therapy to more states and countries.
To learn more and support Born Perfect, go to: bornperfect.org
Mathew Shurka, Activist and Co-founder of Born Perfect
firstname.lastname@example.org | 516-287-7072