Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ohio Tackles Conversion Therapy: A Vital and Necessary Conversation

I want to use this blog post to take a look at and call attention to a couple of pieces of legislation that have been introduced with the Ohio Statehouse.  They are House Bill 247 which was introduced by Representatives Denise Driehaus and Debbie Phillips and Senate Bill 74 which was introduced by Senator Charleta Tavares.  Both are aimed at banning the practice of reparative, or conversion, therapy on minors.  This particular therapeutic practice has been used to try to decrease same-sex attractions in lesbian, gay, and bi-sexual clients as well as to try to suppress the feelings of transgender clients that their interior gender is out of sync with their biological sex.  This practice has come under fire, and across the nation, since the death of Leelah Alcorn, a young transgender teen from the Cincinnati area.  Leelah’s parents had taken her to see a counselor who engaged in such practices, and this was one of the factors, according to her suicide note, that contributed to her feeling that the only way she could be heard was to take her own life and put out a plea that we “fix society.”

Since I spent so many years trying to suppress my own sexual orientation through faith-focused change efforts, another avenue of reparative therapy, I am glad that this discussion is happening amongst our state legislators.  I wish it could have happened sooner and that Leelah could be here to celebrate the introduction of this legislation with us.  As a gay man, I can never truly know what it is to see the world from Leelah’s context.  I have so much respect for my friends who are transgender.  Navigating and accepting my own sexual orientation was enough of a challenge.  I admire the courage and awareness that it takes to discern that your physical form is out of alignment with your inner self, acknowledge that to yourself and to others, and to make the brave step to live inwardly and outwardly as who you truly are.  Our context differs even more in that I entered my efforts to change my sexual orientation as an adult of my own free will as an adult.  Leelah had this process and expectations forced upon her as a child and against her will.  Rather than being supported and encouraged in her process to become her authentic self, Leelah was told to deny her true identity in an effort to prevent its outward emergence.

Both bills would “prohibit certain health care professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts when treating minor patients.”  The bills would also allow counselors and other professionals to still deliver the needed care and support a young person in transition would need by not prohibiting, “assisting a patient who seeks to transition,” “Providing a patient with acceptance, support, and understanding,” “Providing a patient with sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices,” and “Counseling that does not seek to change a patient's sexual orientation.”  This allows room for the client and the professional to chart a course together that is appropriate to the client or, if they professional does not feel that they have the knowledge, credentials, or experience to best assist the client, they can get them connected with a professional or group that specializes in, or possesses the necessary resources to assist the client.  If a professional engages in any behaviors aimed at hindering the client’s process and/or care, they could face having their credentials to practice suspended or revoked.

It has been brought to my attention by a concerned member of the transgender community that having supportive counseling practices not be prohibited doesn’t go far enough.  They feel that the legislation should be amended to read that the professional “must” provide those services and support.  While I am not yet a counselor, I am currently a student in a graduate program aimed at getting me to the point that I can serve as a licensed professional counselor within the state of Ohio.  My current feeling is that this “must” language is too strong.  Counselors, like medical doctors and attorneys, often specialize in certain areas.  An individual charged with murder would not want to be represented by a tax attorney, even if they were the very best tax attorney available.  Similarly, a patient undergoing open-heart surgery would not want the procedure to be carried out by a podiatrist.  That isn’t meant as a criticism of tax attorneys or podiatrists.  If I find myself in a bind with the IRS, I don’t want someone who specializes in criminal law by my side.  I want that top-tier tax attorney.  To put a professional in a position where they “must” provide care when they might not be, even by their own admission, the best to do so could have detrimental impact to the client’s process whether they are in the process of transitioning or coming to terms with and accepting their own sexual orientation or gender identity. 

My other thought is that, while I do not ever want to speak for the context of another, my conversations with friends who are transgender seem to indicate that the transitioning process in terms of timing and process is unique to each individual.  I would not want to put a professional between a client who says they are not ready to begin transitioning and a law that says that they “must” provide care once a diagnosis of gender dysphoria has been reached.

In my opinion, these pieces of legislation provide for the avenue for corrective action that we need while allowing the flexibility needed to provide supportive care.  I am curious to know if others feel differently.  I am also interested in thoughts as to how to address where the vast majority of efforts at changing a person’s sexual orientation or suppressing someone’s need to transition takes place, our communities of faith.  Obviously, this legislation would not address those efforts.  Those discussions to accomplish change would have to come from within our faith communities, denominations, and various faith perspectives.  Please, I welcome your comments and thoughts below.  I’m not sure that we will ever have all the answers, but discussion, even if it is sometimes messy, is how we move forward.


  1. what you are not realizing is the life you are condemning to constant correction of an otherwise preventable aggravation. that their is a difference between gender identity and gender expression, and how those differences of bio/social values overlap to create this encompassing political terminology that is transgender. for those of us experiencing bodily dysphoria it can be diagnosed as early as the age of 4. some experiencing gender dysphoria find that the dysphoria is alleviated thru the ability to present in a more self affirming gender presentation while those who are candidates for sexual reassignment surgery continue to experience bodily dysphoria. the repercussions of which are sever depression,self castration,and suicide. gender and sex are 2 completely different things, which is why the erasure of transseualism in favor of the broader gender dysphoria does not do those with the condition justice. the reason it was done was to allow more people to access gendered body work, yet a standards of care remain in place to prevent someone from "making the wrong decision" in an irreversable surgical realignemnt. i would go on to add that puberty suppression is fully reversible and that its main goal and function is to stave of the masculinizing or feminizing effects until the child can make informed medical decisions on their own. it is introduction of hormones, specificly testosterone, which is irreversible to some degree. the production of facial hair being a key componnet that puberty supression would bypass in trans women which is also a painfull,time and monetary consuming process to correct once its happened to you. hormones that produce such secoundary sex characteristics are not even introduced until the child has made that informed consent, which is usually a matter of yrs being on blockers first. what you seem to be having problems and harking on is my use of the word "must". the point is not that they must push blockers and eventually hormones on any child experiencing any level of gender dysphoria, but that they MUST make such information available and that if the child is diagnosed with this otherwise treatable condition, and if it is something the child wishes,then such medical technology MUST be available. again their are standards of care any healthcare provider must follow in treating this condition, even at an age of full legal consent the process can take well over a yr and requires real life tests and counseling. if the child is fine in simple presentation the dysphoria will dissipate, but if the child is truly suffering the dysphoria will persist until surgery. it is the fact that you are taking such an option away from the children that need it most, who dont have parental consent or a trained therapist to prescribe such life affirming prevention treatment. what you are doing will condemn trans youth like leelah who pleaded for such intervention, to a life of living hell trying to correct what was once so easily avoidable. i would ask you as an unafflicted ex-reperative therapist, to do more research. Childrens hospital here in cincinnati (and elsewhere) is pioneering the treatment of gender dysphoria in youth and adolescence, perhaps you should speak to the programs doctors,directors, and meet with the youth receiving this care as we speak. http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/service/a/adolescent-medicine/programs/transgender/default/

  2. I think the struggle with minors on this topic is that everything medical requires parental consent. The sole nature of these bills is to limit the ability of parents to inadvertently harm their children through the use of the medical providers. Reparative Therapy is the most direct way that harm is done and so it is what these bills focuses on ceasing for sexual orientation and gender identity. The real concern for me lies in how we will distinguish when a parent is harming their child with gender dysphoria by not allowing them to seek care specifically for their circumstance. That's the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity in this context. The psychological struggles faced by those wrestling with their gender identity and expression can still be exponentially multiplied by having to experience puberty (a natural function of the human body) even if they don't have to experience Reparative Therapy. So what can and should we do to protect those people?

    The concern with the bills being raised here doesn't seem to me to be about what providers will do when treating a patient (although that's something that needs to be addressed and I think the bill addresses this). The concern is what happens at home. I think if a child sees a therapist who provides a diagnosis and suggests treatment for gender dysphoria and the parent chooses to restrict that child from receiving that treatment, it should be considered child endangerment. I haven't read the legislation in its entirety but I'm wondering if that is the direction we're headed by stating that Reparative Therapy is illegal. However, it may in fact be that the legislation is not clear enough about gender dysphoria.