If you think kids need a “cure” for being gay, then maybe you’re the one who needs conversion therapy. Last week, the Mental Health Protection Act (HB 516) was referred to committee in the NC legislature. North Carolina legislators are asked to consider “An act concerning the protection of minors and adults with disabilities from attempts to change sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”
The bill calls for an end to conversion therapy, a practice that seeks to “cure” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The lengths of how far parents are willing to go to “cure” children from being gay would seem unreal if I hadn’t seen it firsthand. One of my best friends came out as gay after a few years of what he called “hiding” in a heterosexual marriage. I witnessed his bravery after being disowned by his father. It took years of counseling for him to say that he never felt an intimate attraction to girls and he suffered in silence and hoped and prayed those feelings would change. He had “confessed” to people within the church. The pastor’s answer was to lay hands on him and pray for the “demon spirit” to be removed. They used his secret against him when he tried to leave the congregation. From the outside looking in, he had so many attributes that would make a parent proud – intellect, a spirit of community service, a love of family and a deep desire to change the world. Yet, he quietly struggled with depression.
In his family’s culture, they considered those who were left-handed or “southpaws” as more likely to be gay. Those children were bullied, beat up, called “Sissy Boys.” My friend’s family tied his left hand behind his back in his early years forcing him to pretend to be right handed.
From sleep-deprivation to doping, the stories of abuse are far more alarming at these so-called “conversion centers.” Over 700,000 Americans have gone through conversion therapy even though the practice has been rejected by groups such as the American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The proposed HB 516 references findings of a North Carolina taskforce that conducted a systematic review in 2009. The task force concluded that “sexual orientation” change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame towards parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.”
The bill also references a 2018 study by the Family Acceptance Project, which found increased rates of suicide for LGBTIA+ youth who experience attempts to change their sexual orientation. Sadly, these youths are nearly three times as likely to attempt suicide when compared to a young adult who had no conversion experiences. After all of this research, nothing has been done by lawmakers in North Carolina.
The rate of suicide attempts in North Carolina has nearly doubled in the past decade, and LGBTQ youth are particularly at risk. In a 2017 report by NC Child, 16 percent of high school students said they have seriously considered committing suicide in 2017. The CDC reported that 8.2 percent of all high school students in North Carolina attempted suicide in 2017, compared to 35 percent of transgender high school students. When broken down by gender identity and sexual orientation, the disparity becomes clear with 12 percent of heterosexual students seriously considering suicide, compared to 43 percent of LGBTQ students.
North Carolina has the chance to join 16 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, which have banned conversion therapy for children. Equality North Carolina and Campaign for Southern Equality are leading the charge with Born Perfect NC, a grassroots campaign to end the practice. Groups conducted a poll in February that showed strong bipartisan support for outlawing the practice. They report, “Eighty percent of those polled immediately said they think conversion therapy should be illegal for minors. When they learned more about the practice, nearly half of those who didn’t agree changed their answer.”
This gives me hope that young people don’t have to face the same type of abuse as my friend. Now I am just wondering what NC legislators are waiting for?
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255 for help.
Antionette Kerr is a media correspondent, author and publisher