Conversion therapy in California would be consumer fraud if bill passes

Selling or advertising conversion therapy in California may soon be classified as a type of consumer fraud

The goal of conversion therapy is to change a person’s sexual orientation through counseling, hypnosis, behavior modification, and even electric-shock treatments. How’s that for fraud?

AB 2943 would declare conversion therapy a fraudulent business practice under the State’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and extend certain consumer protections to anyone regardless of age who would be harmed by efforts to change their sexual orientation.

Conversion Therapy

Assemblyman Evan Low has authored a bill that would make California the first state in the nation to outlaw the dangerous and discredited treatment of conversion therapy and declare it a fraudulent practice. Photo: Office of Assemblyman Evan Low.

The bill was passed by the State Assembly Thursday and moves to the State Senate for a vote. If passed by the Senate, it will go to Gov. Jerry Brown.

“The pain and fear suffered by those who have been subjected to conversion therapy is something that I can personally identify with,” said Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Cupertino), who identifies as gay and authored the bill. “This legislation finally creates accountability for those who claim to provide therapy, but are in fact peddling an unfounded and destructive practice.”

The bill does not impede freedom of speech, such as books, or religion. It applies only to financial transactions, Low said.

That means families and religious groups and leaders can continue practicing the discredited practice. 

In 2009, after a review of 83 studies published between 1960 and 2007, an American Psychological Association task force concluded that no evidence existed to prove that conversion therapy works and it “poses critical health risks.”

The American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Medical Association all oppose conversion therapy on the basis that it is not evidence-based and potentially harmful to the patient’s mental health. The practice also contributes to social stigma by characterizing homosexuality as a mental illness, a view that has been discredited for decades.

The American Psychological Association advises mental health professionals to avoid telling patients that they can change their sexual orientation because evidence doesn’t exist that such a change is possible and it’s the potentially harmful to the patient’s mental health.

Gay man who survived conversion therapy tells his story in book ‘The Inheritance of Shame’

In 2012 in California, SB 1172, by then Sen. Ted Lieu, was signed into law and prohibits licensed mental health providers from performing conversion therapy with a patient under 18 years of age. Anyone who violates this law is subject to discipline by the provider’s licensing entity.

At the time, California was the first state in the nation to implement such a law. Six years later, almost 12 states ban conversion therapy for minors, including Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont.

Ted Lieu, who serves in the House of Representatives, wants to replicate the success he had in California and outlaw conversion therapy on the federal level.

Low’s bill is supported by Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Sacramento LGBT Center, the Trevor Project, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected to clarify that the bill would declare conversion therapy a fraudulent business practice.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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