Minnesota should restrict conversion ‘therapy’

I went through the destructive process, and many others will, too. The state would be right to join 15 others that have curbed it.

 

 

I survived conversion “therapy.” From 2006 to 2010, I visited licensed and unlicensed conversion therapy providers in multiple states.

The process was like hypnosis. The goal was to “cure” my attraction toward other men. My counselors tried to identify a nonexistent trauma that “made me think I was gay.” I was told that internalized anger or resentment toward my parents might unlock the mystery to my “sickness.” They tried to say I had “gender confusion” from acting in theater. Whatever it was, they told me we had to figure it out to erase my “lie-based” gay behavior.

In March 2009, I was publicly outed. I offered to return to conversion therapy. Despite allowing a therapist to tamper with my memories every week for over a year, I was still kicked out of my private Christian school to “protect” other students.

The details are traumatic. We’d pray for God to bring up “lies” from my past, and almost like with a DVR remote, we deleted those memories. I can’t explain what that looks or feels like. They erased pieces of my childhood and loving memories with my parents because they said those moments made me gay. To this day, when I try to recall certain memories, I see only the bright light that was supposed to represent the love of Christ.

This form of “therapy” is now practiced under the name “Transformative Prayer Ministry.”

I suffer today from depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal ideation that interferes with my everyday life.

Recently, I joined a support group in Minnesota for survivors of conversion therapy where I met Junior Avalos. When he was just 16, Junior paid to attend a conversion therapy camp run by people with no counseling or medical background. Junior recently shared his story on Kare 11: “One of my most painful memories is practicing masculine mannerisms. I had to lower my voice and put my hands in certain positions on my body. If my voice got too high or my wrist went limp, I risked getting physically assaulted. I left hating myself even more. I left with suicidal thoughts, with higher anxiety and with distrust for the entire world, but I still left there gay.”

Among LGBTQ youth who are currently 13 to 17, an estimated 20,000 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before turning 18, according to a 2018 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Another 57,000 will undergo conversion therapy led by a religious or spiritual adviser.

It is heartbreaking that people still traumatize vulnerable youth under the false premise that being LGBTQ is wrong. Both Junior and I were subjected to conversion therapy this decade. To say that conversion therapy only exists in the history books erases our stories and the stories of many others.

Conversion therapy has been denounced by every mainstream medical and mental health association, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics because it puts people at risk of serious harm and there is no scientific evidence that it works.

The Mental Health Protections Act (H.F. 12) aligns the law with the recommendations of these medical associations. Just as with any other fraudulent medical practice, this bill would prohibit anybody from charging money for practices that falsely promise to “cure” you from being LGBTQ.

Patient-driven therapy that helps people explore their sexual orientation and gender identity, including unwanted thoughts and feelings, would still be legal. The bill would ensure that therapy is always patient-driven, not premised on a dangerous lie that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that can be cured.

Pastoral care would also remain legal as long as the providers don’t cross the line of charging money to cure the so-called “illness” of being LGBTQ. My parents were sold this lie. They were told that if they paid for conversion therapy, I could become straight and avoid a life plagued with misery.

There are LGBTQ kids in Minnesota still being told that they are a threat to their communities. That is a lie. As a Christian minister, I believe that we are ALL made in the image of God. As a human, I believe that all people are deserving of life, love and happiness. To tell LGBTQ people that they are inherently dangerous, sick or threatening is damaging to children, families and communities.

It is time for Minnesota to pass the Mental Health Protections Act and join the 15 other states that have already restricted the dangerous practice of conversion therapy. Nearly half of those states had bipartisan support. Let’s unite as Minnesotans to protect vulnerable LGBTQ youth.

 

—Wil Sampson-Bernstrom lives in Minneapolis. This column came from OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.

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