Hannah Michelle Bussa
Content warning: descriptions of conversion therapy, mentions suicide
State Senator Megan Hunt introduced LB 231 in the Nebraska legislature this session to prohibit conversion therapy in the state of Nebraska.
Conversion therapy refers to various interventions that aim to alter an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These interventions intend to promote heterosexuality as the “preferred outcome.”
“The therapy employs a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic, or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities,” Hunt said. “It is practiced by some licensed professionals in the context of providing health care as well as by clergy or other spiritual advisors in the context of religious gender ideals.”
Hunt said that conversion therapy techniques can include institutionalization, castration, forced sexual interactions, lobotomization, electroconvulsive shock therapy, and talk therapy. These treatments have been proven to be ineffectual and harmful.
“A growing body of research overwhelmingly demonstrates that conversion therapy is not rooted in medically sound practices, is unethical, and causes substantial harm, especially to adolescents,” Hunt said. “That’s why all of the national standard-setting organizations for the major health and mental health professions have come out against conversion therapy as not complying with their ethical standards: the national associations for Psychology, Pediatrics, School Counselors, Physicians, Psychiatrists, Nurses, Social Workers, and many others.”
Sara Rips, LGBTQIA+ Legal & Policy Counsel at the ACLU of Nebraska, said that conversion therapies are based on a premise that these major health and mental health organizations reject, which is the idea that there’s something wrong with people who are anything other than straight and cisgender.
“At its heart, this is about acceptance,” Rips said. “We know LGBTQIA+ youth with accepting adults in their lives are healthier and far less likely to consider or engage in self harm. Telling youth there’s something wrong with who they are has the exact opposite effect. It’s deeply harmful.”
There is no evidence that gender identity or sexual orientation can be “treated” or “cured.”
Abbi Swatsworth, Executive Director at OutNebraska, said that there are no reliable studies that have shown that sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed through therapy. The harms caused by conversion therapy, however, are reliably shown.
“Conversion therapy has been linked to increases in depression, substance use, and suicide among young people who are subjected to it,” Swatsworth said.
Hunt said that LGBTQ+ youth rejected by their parent or caregiver are more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide; nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression; more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs; more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.
“The harmful effects of this abusive practice can have lifelong ripple effects for victims of this treatment that can often end them up with mental health concerns, addictions, and interaction with the criminal justice system,” Hunt said.
There are no exact data points as to how often conversion therapy occurs in Nebraska. Those who practice it do not come forward, and survivors often do not report it.
Swatsworth said that though there is no one way to collect the data, there are at least several therapists who advertise in Nebraska.
Hunt said that according to studies by the UCLA Williams Institute, more than 700,000 LGBTQ people have been subjected to conversion therapy, and an estimated 80,000 LGBTQ youth will experience this unprofessional conduct in coming years.
“We have heard countless Nebraskans share their personal stories demonstrating the real and ongoing harm from these discredited practices across the state,” Hunt said. “Those who have gone through conversion therapies speak of the medically unsound methods employed by these therapists and organizations, such as behavioral therapy, electrical shock therapy, chemical aversive therapy, drug and hormone therapy, surgery, and psychotherapy.”
Hunt said these forms of “treatment” frequently result in nervous breakdowns and feelings of guilt. Some patients have also witnessed others in their programs die by suicide and mutilate their genitals. The “reparative” therapy tactics are likely to cause problems in otherwise healthy LGBTQ+ individuals.
Preventing these harms are the main focus of LB 231.
“It is important to prohibit conversion therapy for minors at the state level so that young people across the state are equally protected,” Swatsworth said.
Rips said Nebraska should be for everyone.
“We appreciate state leaders focusing their attention on affirming and supporting LGBTQIA+ residents,” Rips said. “We share their vision of a state where all LGBTQIA+ people of all ages can live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association. Senator Hunt is a champion for equality and we are so grateful for her leadership.”
Hunt said, “Whether you accept the LGBTQ community or not, as the Government responsible for licensing and standard-setting for our medical practitioners, we are doing our constituents a great disservice by allowing this debunked pseudoscience of a practice to be offered under the guise of medical treatment. If religious leaders want to practice it, they may, but under the auspices of what it is: a religious, moral judgment – not a medical treatment.”
Rips said that when Lincoln city leaders passed a similar proposal on a city level, she worked with the team at Born Perfect. She thinks their name says exactly what every young LGBTQIA2S+ person should hear from their loved ones: “You were born perfect just the way you are.”
Readers can submit comments for LB 231 on the Nebraska Legislature website.