EDITORIAL: Missouri should follow Columbia’s example and ban conversion therapy

Columbia’s City Council voted to ban conversion therapy for minors to protect LGBTQ youth. Still, the state legislature leaves them vulnerable to abuse and discrimination.

On Oct. 7, Columbia’s City Council voted to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors. Conversion therapy is a practice that claims to change one’s sexuality or gender identity to fit the mainstream. Banning the practice is a victory for tolerance within the city and an enthusiastic denunciation of bigotry.

The history of conversion therapy is steeped in misunderstanding. At its core, conversion therapy revolves around the incorrect idea that homosexuality, along with queer identity, is a condition that can be reversed.

Cornell University compiled studies on the effects of conversion therapy. Of the 13 studies that included primary research, 12 came to the conclusion that the procedure is ineffective and/or harmful. These studies found that this practice could lead to mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, along with a decreased capacity for intimacy. One study found that conversion therapy could be effective in altering sexual orientation in a minority of participants. This study, however, is of questionable significance, as it relied on self reporting of religious participants.

Sexual orientation is not medical, though as recently as 1973, the American Psychological Association classified homosexuality as a “mental illness,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. Conversion therapy uses this outdated view of science to justify doing extensive damage to minors in an effort to reinforce heterosexuality as the “correct” sexuality.

Subjecting minors to conversion therapy is irresponsible, and likely harmful. While adults are able to consent to conversion therapy, children are left vulnerable to abuse from parents and religious leaders. Banning the practice helps protect LGBTQ minors from this abuse.

Roughly 20,000 American LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 18 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA. Another 57,000 youth will receive it from religious or spiritual advisers. The study also found that nearly 700,000 Americans received conversion therapy in the past.

Though the City Council deserves praise for their support of LGBTQ rights, the inaction of the state government is cause for concern.

Columbia is the only city in Missouri that has banned conversion therapy for minors and there is no state law prohibiting the practice. Only 17 states in the country have a law protecting minors from conversion therapy, according to the HRC. All of the 17 states are traditionally blue or swing states, and most lie on the coasts.

LGBTQ minors in middle and Republican America deserve the same legal protections that those in Democratic areas enjoy. While the vote is great for Columbia, there is still work to be done to protect those outside the city limits.

Many of the same states that allow for conversion therapy of minors, Missouri included, have similar views on other LGBTQ protections. In Missouri, all private sector employees can legally face discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. Similarly, Missouri has no state law prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Missouri could take influence from federal legislation currently stalled in congress.

The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act was introduced to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in June. The act would have the Federal Trade Commision consider conversion therapy a fraudulent medical practice. The Equality Act would introduce protections on the basis of sexual and gender orientation in areas such as employment, education and housing. The act passed the House of Representatives in May, but has not passed the Senate.

Ensuring that LGBTQ youth are protected from abuse and discrimination should be a top priority of Missouri’s legislature. The Columbia City Council should be commended for their commitment to LGBTQ protections, but we need to realize that LGBTQ Missourians outside of Columbia are vulnerable.

Edited by Zoia Morrow | zmorrow@themaneater.com

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