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.