Curtis Schube & Tom Shaheen: ‘Gender therapy’ bans violate rights
Is it the government’s place to ban certain counseling goals? And if so, should the government disregard those who want counseling to meet those goals and feel that those goals would better their own lives?
Some Pennsylvania municipalities, including Pittsburgh, have said yes, enacting bans on “conversion therapy.” These bans prevent young people from seeking the help of a counselor to work through unwanted same-sex attraction and prevent those who struggle with gender dysphoria from obtaining a counselor’s help to assist them in feeling comfortable with their own sex.
First off, these ordinances pose a threat to licensed professional counselors who work with children and adolescents experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. It threatens counselors with loss of business licensure or fines for not affirming the desirability of same-sex attraction, even if the client wants to reduce or eliminate such attraction, or not act on those desires.
These bans can also prevent same-sex-attracted or gender dysphoric minors from hiring a counselor to help them achieve their own treatment goals. These laws make no distinction between wanted and unwanted treatment. All forms of treatment that do not affirm the minor’s same-sex attraction or identification with the opposite sex are banned.
Suppose a counselor is working with a child who has expressed unwanted gender confusion. If the counselor were to say, “You just need to accept that your gender is different than your biological sex,” that therapist would be doing a disservice by refusing to help that child meet goals. But, if the counselor were to affirm the reality of the child’s actual biological sex, consistent with the child’s goals, the therapist could be charged with a violation.
It’s standard practice for counselors to engage in talk therapy. Aversive or abusive treatments are already rejected by those who offer counseling to same-sex attracted patients. Physical abuse in the course of therapy is unethical and illegal , and there is no evidence that such abuse is occurring in Pennsylvania . So, the only result of these bans would be to punish the protected speech of counselors and to prevent clients from achieving their counseling goals.
Advocates regularly give the false impression that all professionals involved in counseling or medicine support therapy bans. But that’s not so. The right of clients to pursue Sexual Orientation Change Effort (SOCE) therapy is supported by the American College of Pediatricians, the American Association of Christian Counselors, and the Christian Medical Association and the Catholic Medical Association. The American Psychiatry Association (APA) Task Force’s own report concluded:
These bans are unnecessary and are an overreach by local officials. All citizens should be concerned that local governments are deciding for people what goals they are or are not allowed to have during counseling. Counseling should stay between counselor and patient. All parents, children and families deserve the right to pursue their own goals, and government should not be making these life decisions for them.
Curtis Schube is legal counsel Independence Law Center, a Pennsylvania-based pro-bono legal organization. Tom Shaheen is vice president for policy for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a pro-life organization.