Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is calling on state leaders to ban the practice and advertising of LGBTQ conversion therapy, a controversial medical method which studies say has led to increased suicide rates.
In a resolution passed Monday, Bottoms urged the state to ban the practice, also called “reparative therapy,” which uses psychological or spiritual interventions in an attempt to convert someone’s sexual orientation to being strictly heterosexual.
“State-sanctioned practices that inflict persecution and suffering on LGBTQ individuals — particularly young people— should end immediately,” Bottoms said in a statement. “Simply put — we cannot and should not endanger the well-being of the LGBTQ community for living their truth.”
An estimated 698,000 adults have had the therapy and more than half that amount received the treatment as a teenager, according to the William Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
According to a study by the Family Acceptance Project, LGBT youth whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation had higher suicide and depression rates.
Suicide rates among LGBTQ youth whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation were at 48 percent compared with 22 percent for LGBTQ youth who had no conversion experience, according to the study.
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For LGBTQ youth who reported home-based and therapeutic conversion efforts combined with religious intervention, suicide rates were at 63 percent.
It is not known how many conversion therapy centers there are in Georgia, but Ray Kotwicki, medical director at Skyland Trail treatment center and past president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, said there are roughly six. Most, he said, are tied to religious institutions that have been public about performing the practice.
“It’s not something that a lot therapists publicize because it does have a negative connotation associated with it,” he said.
Kotwicki said conversion therapy has been around since at least the 1950s, when medical professionals considered homosexuality a mental disorder that needed treatment.
“Therapists who do them will try to sort of sexually arouse the patient and do something really caustic to them so that a patient will associate being aroused with a bad outcome,” Kotwicki said, adding this could include anything from using smelling salts to punching the patient.
Kotwicki said such unusual methods have led to harmful effects including suicide.
“It does not change someone’s sexual orientation,” he said. “It just makes them feel guilty about it and that they’ve failed.”
Bottom’s resolution also calls for Georgia medical and health boards to impose regulations that prohibit the practice and advertising of conversion therapy.
Last month, Rep. Matthew Willson (D-Brookhaven) presented House Bill 580, which would ban conversion therapy in Georgia, at a committee hearing.
Wilson, who openly identifies as gay, said he created the bill in support of LGBTQ youth.
“I came at this from a LGBTQ perspective. When I came out at age 30, I knew that my friends and family were going to do nothing but support me,” he said. “But for a lot of my gay friends that was not the case. Sadly, a few of them were subjected to conversion therapy.”
The practice is already banned in 16 states, the most recent being Massachusetts and New York, and has been long criticized by professional organizations, including the American Psychology Association and American Medical Association, as an attempt to classify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Wilson said the bill garnered overwhelming support from those in the committee, but that there is still more work to do.
“It’s clear we still have a lot of education to do on the finer points of the bill and whole issue on what conversion therapy is and how it impacts the lives of (LGBTQ) kids,” Wilson said.
He hopes to present the bill to committee again in January with the hopes of getting it to the Georgia House.
For Kotwicki, the legislation would be “regulating the practice of medicine that has been shown to be ineffective.”
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