Imagine this: You're 13 years old and living in a small town in Western New York. Your friends are starting to talk about who they have crushes on at school and it begins to crystallize that you have a crush too, only it's on someone of the same gender. You feel scared and alone. You're not sure what your feelings mean, or how to reconcile that with your coming of age, your family and friends, and finding your place in your home, your school and the world.
So begins the process of coming to terms with your own sense of self and the arduous journey of coming out as LGBT, both to yourself and to others.
For any of us who have gone through the coming out process, we know how challenging it can be, even in the best of circumstances. When you're young and living in a geographic location, or with family or friends who are not supportive of LGBT identities, the process can be terrifying and isolating, even downright dangerous.
For many of our fellow, vulnerable LGBT youth, the journey to self-acceptance is frayed with adults telling them it's wrong to be who they are. Some even try to change them by shipping them off to so-called therapists who use draconian 1950s-reminiscent techniques to try to make someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender straight and cisgender.
It's almost hard to believe in 2014 in the United States that what has come to be known as "conversion therapy" still exists. The sad truth is that this damaging practice is alive and well in many parts of the country, including in progressive states like New York. In fact, it's perfectly legal in New York State and in many states in the U.S. for licensed mental health practitioners to impose sexual orientation or gender identity and expression change efforts on LGBT minors.
A bill presently before the State Legislature in New York, similar to other recently proposed bills in The District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia and similar to the laws that have already passed in California, New Jersey and the United Kingdom, would put an end to this outdated and harmful practice. When passed, this law will force quack therapists to end this practice and define the consequences that mental health professionals will be subject to should they continue trying to change children's gender identity or sexual orientation, including discipline by and sanctions from the provider's licensors.
A significant number of states provide protections for LGBT residents and the Federal Government recognizes our right to equal treatment under the law on an increasing number of issues. The majority of Americans believe that being LGBT is perfectly normal. It's time our laws caught up with public opinion and nearly every major medical institution that has deemed this practice wrong.
The American Psychological Association has not only condemned conversion efforts; it has even cited the negative effects this practice can cause including anxiety, depression, and suicide. From the American Medical Association to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many others, no reputable health organization believes this practice has any place in our state and our country.
Protecting LGBT youth from conversion efforts will not only provide clear guardrails for licensed practitioners to abandon old practices that harm our youth, it will send a strong message to all that LGBT identities are legitimate. Our youngest community members deserve to feel empowered as they come into adulthood, and we should do everything in our power to ensure they have that opportunity.