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Illinois Conversion Therapy Ban: Ethics vs. Privacy

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PHOTO: Illinois lawmakers are considering a ban on the practice of conversion therapy on minors. While opponents claim the legislation infringes upon a family's right to privacy, supporters say conversion therapy is unethical and linked to depression and suicidal behavior. Photo credit: Sophia Dzikas/Flickr.
PHOTO: Illinois lawmakers are considering a ban on the practice of conversion therapy on minors. While opponents claim the legislation infringes upon a family's right to privacy, supporters say conversion therapy is unethical and linked to depression and suicidal behavior. Photo credit: Sophia Dzikas/Flickr.
 By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL, Contact
March 24, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois could follow the lead of other states that have made a controversial practice aimed at "curing" homosexuality in adolescents illegal.

The Conversion Therapy Prohibition Act (HB 217; SB 111) would specifically ban any mental health provider from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation of a minor.

Dr. Dennis Shelby, co-chair of advocacy relations with the American Psychoanalytic Association, says conversation therapy, or reparative therapy, can stem from a parent's misguided response to a child questioning his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

"We have parents' knee-jerk reaction, and there are people out there that will say, 'Sure we can change this,'" says Shelby. "There's very little evidence that is possible, and the other concern is this causes psychological harm to the child."

The American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Illinois Psychological Association are among the mental health organizations backing the legislation. Conversion therapy is already illegal in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Opponents, including the Illinois Family Institute, a Christian values organization, argue the legislation infringes on privacy rights. But Shelby says conversion therapy goes against almost every mental health organization's code of ethics - and it implies there is something wrong with identifying as gay.

"We're saying this is bad, this is wrong and it needs to be changed," he says. "That starts shading into this business of coercion, and we don't coerce our patients. We provide them an environment where they can explore their mind."

Shelby adds that research from San Francisco State University found that highly-rejected LGBT young people were six times more likely to report high levels of depression, and eight times more likely to have contemplated suicide than those not rejected because of their gay or transgender identity.

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