Outlawing Conversion Therapy Takes Education, Awareness

Sep 10, 2018

What is conversion therapy? The Human Rights Campaign defines it as “a range of dangerous claims and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” 

Conversion therapy is practiced through several different means, such as prayer, psychotherapy, and aversion therapy. Due to the harm it causes, it has been denounced by every major American medical organization. Conversion therapy has been scientifically proven to cause anxiety, depression, PTSD, and suicidality. The practice is so dangerous that fourteen different states have outlawed it. So, why isn't Maine one of these states?

Recently, Governor Paul LePage vetoed LD-912, a bill that would have outlawed conversion therapy in the state of Maine. Over the summer, I asked people in Portland what they thought of this. Their responses were rather interesting. While some of the interviewees stood vehemently against conversion therapy, many others did not know what it was. 

Completely surprised by the general lack of knowledge about conversion therapy, I decided to reach out to some of the experts. These people came from several different backgrounds and professions. They ranged from teachers to politicians, but many of them shared one thing in common. When asked if they supported conversion therapy, they answered with a resounding, “no.”

Brewer High School English teacher and Gender and Sexuality Club (GSA) adviser Michelle MacDonald even compared conversion therapy to child abuse.

When asked how she would respond if a student had gone through conversion therapy, she said, “I think I would make sure the student had outside resources to LBGTQ groups in the area and really stress to them that in my classroom and in the GSA that they are not only accepted, but they are celebrated for who they are. It would be really important to help this student have as many allies as possible.”

MacDonald was certainly not the only one with this view. When asked about conversion therapy, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Zak Ringelstein referred to it as an “assault on the LGBT community” that could lead to severe mental illness. He also suggested that universal health care would be a good way to combat it. 

“What we talk about in our campaign is 'Medicare for all.’ We, as the richest country, need to provide free healthcare, support research into the effects of conversion therapy, and support HRT [hormone replacement therapy] for transgender people,” said Ringelstein.

Free healthcare and government-supported research into conversion therapy may be a great combination for an elixir, but it's not enough. We need to really support the LGBTQ community. We really, really need to uplift the LGBTQ community. Yes, universal health care is a step in the right direction. But what else can we do? 

Maybe, we should lobby against LePage's decision. Perhaps we should provide more educational resources for LGBT people and their supporters. Perhaps we should have GSAs in public schools, set up more PFLAG meeting spaces, and donate more money to organizations like Maine TransNet and The Trevor Project. Lepage's veto doesn't just affect our mental health. It affects our lives, and we need to take it seriously.

Evangelia Suleiman is a student at Gorham High School. She produced this piece during a Raise Your Voice Workshop sponsored by Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project.