PRESS RELEASE: As “Boy Erased” Calls Attention to “Conversion Therapy,” Leading Mental Health Professional Associations Continue to Urge Action to Protect New York’s Youth

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Kania Ponto, MSW
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As “Boy Erased” Calls Attention to “Conversion Therapy,” Leading Mental Health Professional Associations Continue to Urge Action to Protect New York’s Youth

(NEW YORK, NY) – On Friday, November 2, 2018, the film “Boy Erased” premiered in select theaters with a nationwide release set for Friday, November 16, 2018. Written and directed by Joel Edgerton, and based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, the movie tells Conley’s story through Jared Eamons, the son of Baptist parents who is forced to undergo so-called “gay conversion therapy.”  The all-star cast includes Lucas Hedges as Jared Eamons and Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as his parents.

So-called “conversion therapy”, also known as “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)” is “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” (Human Rights Campaign). The National Association of Social Workers released a position statement in May 2015 on sexual orientation and change efforts (SOCE). The statement declares “SOCE can negatively affect one’s mental health and […] the practice of SOCE violates the very tenets of the social work profession as outlined in the NASW Code of Ethics including maintaining competence, fighting discrimination, and avoiding misrepresentation.” (NASW, 2015).

Leading medical and mental health professional organizations have repudiated so-called “conversion therapy,” including the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which states, “…[The APA] does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change. No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.”

Similarly, a report by the American Psychological Association has found that individuals who have undergone conversion therapy can suffer from “depression, helplessness, hopelessness, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred, feelings of anger, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in emotional intimacy, a feeling of being dehumanized, and a loss of faith.”

Recognizing the danger and potential detrimental and long-term effects, 14 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to prohibit so-called “conversion therapy” for minors. The measures come at a crucial time as The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law estimates nearly 700,000 individuals have endured so-called “conversion therapy,” including 350,000 as adolescents, with another 77,000 at risk in states that have not prohibited or restricted the practice.

“I am one of the 700,000 people in the U.S. who has been through conversion therapy,” said Mathew Shurka, co-founder and senior strategist of BornPerfect, a nationwide campaign to end conversion therapy. “With the release of movies such as Boy Erased, I could not think of a more important time than now for this issue to be addressed nationwide. Since overcoming my time in conversion therapy, I have co-founded the BornPerfect Campaign, a team of impact lawyers and conversion therapy survivors supporting lawmakers and survivors to help end conversion therapy. So far, 14 states have passed laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and counting. Myself and all of BornPerfect are proud to be partnering with these mental health professions to prohibit so-called conversion therapy in New York.”

In New York State, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took executive action in 2016 prohibiting insurers, health plans, and Medicaid from covering and reimbursing so-called “conversion therapy,” and barred it for minors in mental health facilities operated or funded by the State. The New York City (NASW-NYC) and New York State (NASW-NYS) Chapters of the National Association of Social Workers, the New York State Psychiatric Association, the New York State Psychological Association, and the New York State Society for Clinical Social Work applauded the Governor’s action as an important first step, while urging passage of legislation that would prohibit licensed mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change a minor’s sexual orientation and defining such activity as professional misconduct, subjecting the licensed professional to disciplinary action. Absent the enactment of such legislation, several counties and localities around the state have enacted local laws to protect youth, including Albany County, the City of Albany, the City of Rochester, New York City, Ulster County, and most recently, Westchester County.

The above associations continue to make the protection of youth central to their legislative programs, issuing a joint statement, “While we applaud the executive actions taken heretofore in New York, the next step to protect LGBTQ youth is through the enactment of legislation that bars licensed mental health professionals from offering or providing “conversion therapy” and defining it as professional misconduct. The enactment of such a law, when combined with the Governor’s previous actions, will result in New York having the most comprehensive protections of any state.”

We hope films such as “Boy Erased” serve to educate both the public and policy makers about this damaging practice and, as a result, build a crescendo of voices to stand with the licensed mental health professions calling for an end to it once and for all for minors.

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