Editorials, Opinion

City Council can — and should — ban conversion therapy

In the Constitution’s preamble, the Founding Fathers laid out the promises of the government they were forming: establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Yesterday, we discussed the Texas abortion ban. That’s an instance of government violating two of those promises: to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessings of liberty.

Today, we’ll discuss an instance where government intervention is needed to uphold those promises.

Early last week, the Human Rights Commission asked Morgantown City Council to craft an ordinance banning conversion therapy within city limits.

Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to “convert” someone who is homosexual or transgender (gender identity and biology don’t match) into being heterosexual or cisgender (gender identity and biology do match). It’s sometimes referred to as “praying the gay away,” as conversion therapy often takes place in religious settings or under the guidance of religious leaders, though not always.

Here’s the crux of the issue: Conversion therapy doesn’t work. It does not make gay people straight; it does not make transgender people become cisgender. All it does is leave its victims traumatized, scarred both mentally and physically.

In the words of Dr. Jack Drescher, a clinical psychiatrist who has studied conversion therapy, “You can change how you think about how you feel, but that doesn’t change how you feel.”

In other words, someone can’t be taught to be straight, but they can be taught to be ashamed of who they are.

The American Psychological Association, American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all condemned conversion therapy because of the harm it causes. Though physical methods like painful aversive conditioning (pairing an unwanted behavior with physical discomfort, such as an electric shock) are less common than “talk” therapies, the talk therapies are no less damaging. The APA reports people who have undergone conversion therapy can suffer from the following as a result: Shame, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, loss of faith, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred, social withdrawal, feeling dehumanized and untrue to self, depression, increased substance abuse, high-risk sexual behaviors and suicidality. In fact, the Family Acceptance Project reports that LGBTQ+ youth who are victims of conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.

At this time, there is no proposed ordinance to ban conversion therapy in Morgantown, and if there was, it would have no authority over religious groups. That should change.

Morgantown City Council needs to craft and implement an ordinance to forbid conversion therapy, and it needs to have an enforcement mechanism and it needs to apply to religious groups, since they are frequent culprits of the practice.

The Constitution allows for freedom of religion, yes, but the Supreme Court case Reynolds v. United States established as far back as 1878 that government can curb religious practice — if not religious belief — if that practice is harmful to individuals or contrary to the laws of the land.

Conversion therapy harms its victims — that goes without question. Therefore, city council is well within its authority to ban the practice, even in religious settings.