Florida's first openly gay statewide elected official is once again taking aim at one of the most dubious practices aimed at young homosexuals: so-called gay conversion therapy, which purports to change sexual orientation.
Rep. David Richardson, a Democrat from Miami Beach, has filed a bill that would prohibit such therapy for minors, which critics say can harm a child's psyche by suggesting there is something wrong with him or her that needs to be fixed.
Richardson believes the practice can have devastating emotional and psychological effects on young people. He filed a similar bill last session, but it didn't pass.
“It’s almost a form of child abuse, because children that have gone through this tend to have a lot more trauma later in their life in terms of that experience,” Richardson said in a statement.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, "Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide."
Supporters of conversion counseling, though, say people should be allowed to try to change their sexual orientation if they choose, and some patients say they are "transformed" because of the practice and are living "more at peace" with themselves as heterosexuals.
However, Richardson says the majority of patients who undergo conversion therapy are not converted. “I think it’s been shown over the years that this type of effort is not successful.”
Indeed, according to the American Psychological Association, “there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.”
Because of the lack of efficacy and the trauma many patients experience during treatment, Richardson believes the controversial practice needs to be outlawed, at the very least, for children and teens because of their vulnerability and impressionability.
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Richardson's proposed law would forbid licensed professionals from using this form of counseling on minors, even if their parents request it. These professionals include “medical practitioners, osteopathic practitioners, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and licensed counselors.”
Any professional who breaks the law would be subject to disciplinary action from a regulatory board.
Already, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., have approved and enacted similar laws. Whether the Sunshine State will be next is line depends upon the extent to which Florida lawmakers are gay-friendly.