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New Mexico joins other states and cities in banning conversion therapy

Jill McMichaels talks to survivors of conversion therapy about the progress being made to ban the dangerous practice.

New Mexico joins other states and cities in banning conversion therapy
New Mexico joins other states and cities in banning conversion therapy

Conversion therapy is a controversial method of changing people’s sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to heterosexual. Though some practitioners based the philosophy behind it in the realm of psychology, most come from a place of spirituality. Conversion therapy is considered pseudoscience, regardless of the foundational philosophy. For this reason, scientific, medical, and government groups have voiced their concern about the practice and declared it potentially harmful.

Currently, conversion therapy is banned in New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois, New York, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and New Mexico. Conversion therapy for minors on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation is also banned in the following cities: Cincinnati, Miami Beach, Wilton Manners, Seattle, Miami, North Bay Village, West Palm Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, Pittsburgh, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, El Portal, Toledo, Key West, Columbus, and Tampa.

On 16 February 2017, the New Mexico Senate approved a bill barring the practice. It was then passed to the New Mexico House of Representative, who concurred on 15 March 2017. The bill was signed into law by Governor Susana Martinez on 7 April 2017.

New Mexico state Senator Jacob R. Candelaria, who sponsored the bill along with Representative G. Andres Romero, told the Human Rights Campaign: ‘Today’s historic action by Governor Martinez confirms that our shared commitment to protecting all children from abuse transcends party labels and ideological differences. In New Mexico, we value and celebrate every child for who they are. I want to thank Governor Martinez for having the courage to stand up for the simple truth that every LGBTQ kid in New Mexico is born perfect. I also want to thank the victims of conversion “therapy” who came forward to support this bill. Their stories did not fall on deaf ears. They turned their suffering into a force for good, and because of them, and for them, we have made history.’

Conversion therapy involves a range of interventions, including social skills training, counseling, psychoanalytic therapy, visualization, and spiritual intervention, like prayer, group support, and pressure. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that these methods change a person’s gender identity or expression or sexual orientation. The reverse is true. Research clearly demonstrates conversion therapy poses critical health risks for LGBTQ youth. They may experience substance abuse, decreased self-esteem, depression, homelessness, and suicidal behavior.

In some circles, reparative therapy is used as a synonym for conversion therapy, Reparative therapy is based on the belief that same-sex attraction is an unconscious attempt to fix feelings of inadequacy. Although the practice has been utterly discredited by the American Psychological Association, there are still people who administer the treatment or seek it out. In fact, the Republican Party of Texas recommended ‘counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment’ as part of their party platform in 2014.

The law applies to mental and physical health care workers but does not apply to clergy, so the practice may continue in some form in New Mexico. However, state licensing boards can take action against medical practitioners who break the law, which details disciplinary measures.

‘As a survivor of conversion therapy that happened right here in my home state of New Mexico, it’s a very special day to see this barbaric and dangerous practice banned in the place that I grew up and call home,’ said Amber Royster, Equality New Mexico’s Executive Director. ‘My hope is that parents and families everywhere will think twice before seeking to change their LGBTQ child or loved one, and now we have the legal mechanism to ensure it doesn’t happen at the hands of licensed practitioners in New Mexico.’

Jill McMichaels is a successful journalist who has worked as both an editor and writer for LGBTQ alternative and mainstream publications, including weeklies, monthly magazines, and queer media, both online and in print. She also works at a non-profit that provides counseling and free rehab centers to homeless LGBTQ youth.

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