Ending an outdated practice

The value of a short legislative session is passing self-evident laws consistent with the public interest. (This is especially true when farsighted goals such as a transportation package fall away.)

Correcting a practice that dates to the 1930s when the American Psychiatric Association still defined homosexuality as a mental disorder, lawmakers are at last looking to prohibit health professionals from performing sexual orientation change efforts on children under 18.

It’s an anachronistic practice straight out of a John Cheever short story, with therapists preying on parents convinced that their gay child can be turned un-gay.

“It’s critical that the Legislature take action to protect young people from practices that are ineffective, inhumane and in some cases — dangerous,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, sponsor of HB 2451 to end the practice. “Every single medical association that has reviewed these practices has condemned them. We should listen to the experts and protect our kids from harm.”

The bogus orientation-reversal practice is a racket for predatory therapists. More salient than scamming families, the “therapies” damage minors. The effort is not only useless, research confirms, but a threat to the emotional development of children.

It’s for all of these reasons that the Children’s Alliance, the Washington State Psychological Association and the State Society for Clinical Social Work condemn the practice and support Liias’ bill.

“Counseling aimed at changing sexual orientation is based on the notion that same-sex attractions are disordered, inferior to heterosexual orientation, and that lesbian and gay individuals are incapable of leading productive lives and engaging in stable family relationships,” said Dr. Douglas Haldeman, a Clinical Professor of Psychology at the UW in testimony before House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

That counselors still hawk these therapies is difficult to fathom. At the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Samuel D. Hunter’s play “A Great Wilderness” explores the dishonesty of compelling gay teens to change their orientation. Make no mistake: The bill does not affect therapies for gay children who need social or coping support. In an often homophobic world, gay adolescents need all the support they can get.

The Senate companion bill, 6449, co-sponsored by Sens. John McCoy, Steve Hobbs and Liias, is stalled. We hope that Sen. Randi Becker, Health Care Committee Chair, gives the bill a hearing and a vote. It puts children and best practices first. It’s also the right thing to do.

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