July 19, 2013
Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities
Boston, MA 02133
Dear Chairman Barrett and Chairwoman Khan:
My name is Carly Burton and I am the Deputy Director of MassEquality, a statewide grassroots advocacy organization working to ensure that everyone in Massachusetts is free from discrimination and oppression on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of House bill 154 An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation or gender identity in minors. On behalf of the 200,000 supporters of MassEquality, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Commonwealth, we respectfully ask you to report this bill out favorably.
“Conversion therapy” is the practice of trying to change or “cure” a minor’s same sex attraction or transgender identity. Most mental health providers have deemed it ineffective and harmful to young people. In fact, because the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders removed homosexuality as a mental health disorder in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association does not believe there is any disorder to be “cured”. Yet, the “therapy” still persists even here in Massachusetts. It can include mental and physical “treatment” that endeavors to condition a young person to reject same sex attraction or differences between a young person’s gender identity and their anatomical sex. Not only is this ineffective, it is also abusive and can lead to a lifetime of challenges both for the young person enduring the therapy as well as for that person’s parents or guardians.
For young people who endure this “treatment”, they talk of feeling guilt and shame about themselves and their same sex attractions. Gabriel Arana wrote a story in the American Prospect in April of 20123 about his experience of “conversion” therapy. In one section, he writes about a book that his therapist wrote which “included a section that categorized different emotions under the rubrics of “true self” and “false self.” The true self felt masculine, was “adequate, on par,” “secure, confident, capable,” and “at home in [his] body.” The false self did not feel masculine, was inadequate and insecure, and felt alienated from his body. This rang true. I had been teased throughout my childhood for being effeminate, and as a lanky, awkward teen with bad skin, I certainly was not at home in my body.”( Arana, Gabriel; The American Prospect, “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life,”, April 11, 2012) Many young people who endure this “treatment” feel similarly and it leads to many challenges for them. Luckily for
Gabriel, he was able to endure this therapy and move forward, but others are not so lucky.
During the hearing this Tuesday, the committee also heard testimony on the epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth and the unique barriers they face while trying to access services and shelter. Many of these young people are forced to leave their homes because their parents reject their sexuality or their gender identity. Some experienced so-called conversion therapy, some were forced back into the closet and many still struggle with revealing their true identities because of the homophobia and transphobia they have encountered. Banning “conversion therapy” would not only send a message about the Commonwealth’s support for LGBTQ youth to the young people themselves but also to their parents or guardians about how all young people deserve support and compassion for who they are.
But it is important to note that many parents are also misled about this so-called treatment. In fact, the “therapy” focuses on the purported cause of homosexuality and same sex attraction which falls squarely on the parents and their relationship to the child. In some cases, parents may be blamed for being overly close or overly distant to their child, for not modeling typical masculine or feminine behavior and for allowing young children to play with toys typically reserved for the other gender. Gabriel Arana writes, “[Dr.] Nicolosi explained, session after session, that I felt inadequate because I had not had sufficient male affirmation in childhood. I came to believe that my attraction to men was the result of the failure to connect with my father.” ( Arana, Gabriel; The American Prospect, “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life,”, April 11, 2012) This type of assertion can wreak havoc on the family structure and lead to parents/guardians also blaming themselves and feeling guilty and shameful.
This bill would prevent young people from being subjected to so-called mental health treatment that is ineffective and abusive. We respectfully request that you favorably report out 154 An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation or gender identity in minors. Massachusetts has already shown a commitment to youth the LGBTQ youth in our state. Reporting this bill out favorably would continue that commitment and show our young people the importance and strength in living one’s true and authentic self that the state is engaged in supporting their health, well-being, and safety.
Thank you for your consideration.
Deputy Director, MassEquality