Gaylesta works to establish professional standards of appropriate LGBTQ-affirmative psychotherapy as well as to protect our population from harmful psychotherapy practices. We were in the forefront of the movement to ban SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts, also known as ex-gay, conversion or reparative therapy) that led to the passage of SB 1172 in September, 2012. This California law prohibits licensed mental health providers from practicing SOCE on minors.
The need for such legislation emerged in 2010 when we became aware that the BBS, the licensing board for MFTs and LCSWs, had approved a well-known SOCE organization as a provider of continuing education for therapists. We organized a letter writing campaign asking the BBS to prohibit these trainings, based on substantial research that such techniques are useless, fraudulent and result in substantial harm for clients subjected to these methods. Since the BBS and the BOP (the licensing board for psychologists) took the position that they are merely enforcing state regulations on mental health, Gaylesta’s Advocacy Committee concluded that the most effective way to eradicate these practices was through legislation.
Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) and Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) were the first legislators we contacted who took up this cause. When Assemblyperson Ma’s legislative term was over, the work was carried forward by State Senators Ellen Corbett (D-Hayward) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach). Ultimately, Ted Lieu (D-Torrence) sponsored SB 1172. As this bill took shape, Equality California (EQCA) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) became official sponsors and worked with legislators to ensure the bill’s passage. AAMFT-CA (American Assoc. for Marriage and Family Therapy, Calif. Division) devoted considerable time and effort to shape a bill that mental health professional organizations could support. We are grateful to all the organizations and individuals who worked on this bill, which is the first in the U.S. to prohibit SOCE for minors.
Lawmakers in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Virginia have followed California’s lead in proposing bills of their own, and New Jersey now has a similar bill that was signed into law.
SB 1172 was scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013, but has been facing legal battles since it was signed. Two lawsuits were filed in district courts in California to try to prevent the bill from being enacted. The primary argument is that SB 1172 violates First Amendment rights of free speech. However, the court has consistently ruled (both here and New Jersey, where their bill is being similarly challenged) that the law is an appropriate regulation of medical practices, and is not restricting free speech. The plaintiffs are now asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. We are waiting to hear a decision from the Court. If they opt not to take up this case, the law goes into effect without further delay.
While we recognize the importance of this landmark legislation in protecting the well being of minors, we hope to see a total ban on SOCE. This practice perpetuates the belief that LGBTQ people are sick, and that sexuality can be changed with enough effort. The effect of these beliefs on LGBTQ individuals is often severe depression and suicide attempts as well as misery for their spouses and children.
While most mental health organizations have taken strong stands against SOCE, there is one notable exception. CAMFT (California Assoc. of Marriage and Family Therapists) has not taken a stand in denouncing this practice, and the plaintiffs who are challenging SB 1172 in court are CAMFT members. This is consistent with CAMFT’s reluctance to support marriage equality despite significant pressure from many of its members, as well as their lack of support for other legislation that supports the mental health of LGBTQ people.
We urge our membership, our community and our allies to help spread the word about SOCE and support the ban of this harmful practice. We will continue to work for a clear delineation between mental health practices and religious beliefs, and for the acceptance of LGBTQ people in all sectors of society.