A federal appeals court was scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on whether a law prohibiting professional therapy aimed at turning gay minors straight violates the practitioners’ civil rights.
The groundbreaking legislation would ban licensed therapists, psychologists, social workers and counselors from engaging in “sexual orientation change efforts” – also called reparative therapy or conversion therapy – with a patient under the age of 18, regardless of the willingness of the patient or patient’s guardian.
If a professional is found to have administered conversion therapy, one could lose his or her license to practice.
Supporters of legislation have said conversion therapy poses a critical health risk to minors, who could experience depression, shame, social withdrawal or suicidal thoughts as a result of the therapy.
Nick Ladany, dean of Santa Clara University School of Education and Psychological Counseling, said he is certain that everything about conversion therapy is wrong and unethical.
“The bottom line is it is a form of shame-based therapy: you are not good enough because you are gay,” Ladany said. “I would say that anytime they’re doing reparative therapy, it is a form of mental torture. It’s a form of hurting someone intentionally because of one’s own belief system that who you are is not OK.”
Ladany said he also believes that this therapy is one of the most harmful things someone can undergo.
“I would argue that a very subtle form of therapy that leads people to believe they should not be gay is a more insidious kind of approach toward a therapeutic prevention, it can actually do more harm because you don’t see it coming.”
Opponents of the legislation have said the law violates freedom of speech, freedom of association and religious rights.
David Pickup, a licensed therapist who underwent 10 years of conversion therapy, said the therapy is effective and helps rid people of feeling guilty for having homosexual feelings.
“Reparative therapy, first and foremost, gets rid of any and all shame that a man may have for having homosexual feelings,” Pickup said. “A lot of gender identity shame or inferiority starts at very young ages, at sexual and gender developmental years, so we go into these wounds and unmet needs through emotional connectedness.”
The decision from federal appeals court was not expected for several weeks. Both supporters and opponents of the legislation told NBC4’s sister station KNTV that if the decision doesn’t go their way, they plan to take their arguments to the Supreme Court.
Stephanie Chuang contributed to this report.