Untherapeutic Conversion

The “Oh! Mommy! This song is amazing! Who sings it?” seven-year-old me asked my mother from the back seat of our Ford Explorer, as Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” blasted on the radio. “It’s Britney Spears,” she said.
“Oh. I love this song!” I said happily. The very next day, I came home from school in tears. I realized that none of the other boys in my second grade class liked Britney Spears. I told my mother, who comforted me, and assured me that it was okay for a boy to like Britney Spears and that I should not care what others think. This is the earliest instance in which I can remember truly feeling different from other boys. I did not know, at this point, why exactly I felt so different but I did not want to feel different.
Yet as one life event led to another, and as I grew older, I began to understand and accept it. When I came out to my family as gay in my late teens, I was bombarded with hugs and showered in acceptance from my supportive family members. It is very difficult for me to imagine how different my life would be now, had I not had supportive, nonjudgmental parents who accepted and embraced me for who I am and will always be. Yet likely for millions of Californians, the horrific thought of family rejection and parents’ search for professional help to change just one simple aspect of their children has been a reality — until last week. With the recent passage of a bill that makes all gay conversion therapies for individuals under the age of 18 illegal should come the realization that identities, including sexual orientation, are immutable.
Gov. Jerry Brown, an avid supporter of gay rights, having argued against Proposition 8 in court, appointed the first openly gay and lesbian judges in California history, and issued an order prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace, has set an example for other state governments by approving this bill.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, and thus discouraged the treatment of homosexuality as an illness. However, beginning shortly after that, the number of therapists performing gay conversion therapies on minors drastically increased.
Gay conversion therapy, a pseudo-scientific process that often includes electric shock therapy and the administration of nausea-inducing drugs on patients, attempts to permanently change one’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Not only is this process unsuccessful, it causes shame, prejudice and, in many cases, severe depression for the individuals who undergo it.
This treatment teaches children that qualities and feelings with which they are born are wrong and must be suppressed. Parents who have forced their children to undergo such treatment are guilty of harming and neglecting their children and may have been prompted to do so for a variety of reasons. Many are plagued with religion-based bigotry. Such parents believe strict adherence to religious practices and texts to be more important than the happiness and freedom of their children. They refuse to acknowledge that religions were established thousands of years before scientific practices were perfected, before major reformations to specific religious practices were made and before the First Amendment to the United States Constitution declared the separation of church and state.

Put simply, religion is dated.
Though many ancient religious teachings extraordinarily remain true today, those that condemn homosexuality as a sin do not. Science provides us with objective truth, making such aspects of religious teachings irrelevant and primitive. To force a child to undergo conversion therapy is to ignore thousands of years of history and progress, including that which has taken place within the United States.
Parents of gay conversion therapy patients may be consumed by selfish desires.
For the future success of their children, parents must remember that the lives they have created are not their own, and that what may bring them, as parents, happiness, may differ greatly from what brings their children happiness. It may have been a parent’s dream to become a grandparent or attend a traditional wedding. But if this is not the desire of the child, it should not be forced upon him or her. Parents should remember that their own wants and needs are less important than that of their children. Parents should embrace their child’s unique qualities, including their sexual orientations, rather than rejecting them and actively trying to change them to fit their own.
Finally, forcing a child into gay conversion therapy whisks him or her into a devolutionary process that teaches him or her to value certain lifestyles over others. Gay conversion therapy inspires prejudice toward the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, and ultimately teaches them that an openly gay lifestyle is far inferior to a straight lifestyle. In a country where several states allow gay marriage, and LGBTQ bullying in schools has continued to decrease, gay conversion therapy reverses the progression away from intolerance. By banning such therapies, California is re-progressing toward tolerance.
California is a state that is known for its ethnic, religious and sexual diversity. Gay conversion therapies have suppressed this element of diversity among the members of our state’s population. The ban on such therapies will support this ever-changing and ever-growing diverse population. After all, it is our respective differences that distinguish us as individuals.

Eli Heller is a third-year literary journalism major. He can be reached at hellere@uci.edu.