Thanks to a chance opportunity to meet a brilliant young man, Samuel Brinton, I have become fully aware of the horrors of "conversion therapy," sometimes called "reparative, therapy," where a therapist tries to change a person from gay to straight.
Conversion therapy has been denounced by every mainstream medical and mental health association, including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association.
On their website the American Psychiatric Association says:
The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/ her homosexual orientation."
We all need to oppose this and work to do something about it.
Recently the District of Columbia became only the third jurisdiction in the United States, after California and New Jersey, to outlaw this practice for minors. The bill was written by Councilmember Mary Cheh and co-sponsored by every member of the council. After the bill was signing by former Mayor Vincent Gray, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) staff attorney Samantha Ames said, "Today, the D.C. Council sent a powerful message to LGBT youth and their families that they are accepted, supported, and loved."
Today NCLR is the only major LGBT organization with a focus on banning conversion therapy. They have launched the BornPerfect campaign to "end conversion therapy in the next five years by passing laws across the country to protect LGBT children and young people, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices." Today, while same-sex marriage is legal in36 states and the District of Columbia, in 48 states this form of torture is still legal.
The time has come for the entire LGBT community and our allies to join this fight. It is about us. It is a simple fact that no one can or should try to change who we are. Whether we were born gay or lesbian, or whether we were assigned "male" or "female" at birth only to realize that our gender identity doesn't match, no one else should have the right to try to have us changed. They simply need to respect who we are and hopefully love us.
The young man who made me aware of this issue is a leader in the fight to end this type of torture. His parents sent him to undergo conversion therapy. He suffered its horrors, and in his own words he is a survivor yet will always live with the scars. He is fighting so that no other child is forced to go through what he did. You can't listen to his story, which he relates in a Google talk, and not want to stand up with him and shout from the rooftops, "This is wrong, and we need to do something to end it today!"
Sam has some traits that surely enabled him to survive and thrive. I first came into contact with him when hearing him sing a solo during the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington's holiday show. He has a superb voice and is hard to miss with his cherubic face and red Mohawk haircut. As I got to know Sam and learned more about him, I found his red Mohawk the least amazing thing about him. I learned about his experience with conversion therapy. I found out that he has dual master's degrees in nuclear engineering and policy from the technology and policy programs at MIT. He has a B.S. in mechanical and nuclear engineering and a B.A. in vocal music performance, with a minor in Chinese language. He had internships at the Harvard Kennedy School, Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and Dow Chemical Company working on various projects relating to nuclear engineering and systems analysis. If that isn't enough, Sam co-founded NuclearPride, whose goal is to build an LGBT and allied community in the nuclear science and engineering field. He created the Stand With Science campaign, which united 10,000 students and allies from across the country to advocate for federal science and engineering research funding.
So Sam is a special human being. But his fight, and the fight we must join, is for all those young people who won't be able to survive conversion therapy. It is the fight for those who will commit suicide because of it, and those whose lives will be ruined in so many ways even if they survive it. To join the fight, you can get information from the NCLR and then work to support existing legislation or develop new legislation in your state and pressure all our LGBT groups at the state and national level to make this fight one of their top priorities in 2015.