LGBTQ Pride Awareness Month: Fighting Conversion Therapy
June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and has been designated as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) awareness month to honor the uprising that occurred on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn. The gay bar, located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, was raided by the police because homosexual behaviors (holding hands, kissing, cross-dressing) were illegal at that time as was the sale of liquor in gay bars.
The raid and subsequent riots were the catalyst to the gay rights movement with the first Pride day and march, Christopher Street Liberation Day, occurring on June 28, 1970. Activist, Brenda Howard, coordinated the first Pride parade and proposed a week-long series of celebrations, which was extended to the month of June. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both supported the Pride movement and declared June LGBTQ Pride month.
The LGBTQ community still faces stigma, barriers, and challenges despite the advancements made toward equality. In the past, differing theories and treatments caused discrimination and prejudicial views about individuals whose sexual orientation was not heterosexual.
The term ‘homosexuality’ was first used by both Hungarian writer, Karl Maria Kertbeny and psychiatrist, Richard von Krafft-Ebing in the 19th century, although they disagreed about its definition and moral compass. Their differences continued into the 20th century resulting in two main theories, Freud’s psychoanalysis that was embraced by psychiatrists at the time, and theories garnered in academic sexology research.
During the 20th century, researchers studying homosexuality concluded that it was a normal variation in the expression of human sexuality. However, because of the popularity of psychoanalysis at that time, the views and theories of sexology researchers were ignored.
Gay and lesbian activists organized and disrupted the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) meetings in 1970 and 1971 in order to draw attention to the work performed by sexology researchers. This eventually led to the APA removing homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder from the DSM-II.
Even though this achievement was a major victory for the LGBTQ community, outdated and discredited therapies still exist in many states representing dangerous practices ‘forced’ upon those who are vulnerable, especially adolescents and young adults.
Conversion or reparative therapy are treatments including individual talk therapy, behavioral (aversive stimuli), group therapy, or milieu therapies (retreats or inpatient treatments) that attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. There is no evidence that these types of therapies are effective, but instead, are harmful and can result in depression, anxiety, homelessness, drug use, and suicide, especially in vulnerable minors.
Major mental health organizations have rejected conversion therapy because there is no scientific evidence that they are effective. Currently, New Jersey, Oregon, California, Illinois, Washington, DC, and Ontario have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, and 17 states have legislation pending to ban these therapies. In 2015, President Barack Obama called for the end of conversion therapy or any type of treatments intended to change a person’s sexual orientation.
“As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
For many people in the LGBTQ community, Pride events are the only time they can be out and express themselves freely without judgments or rejection. The festivals and celebrations illustrate the advancements that have been made but are also times to recognize the distance and work that needs to be done to achieve full equality.