Regarding practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors

Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities
The General Court [Legislature] of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts
June 6, 2017 

By Peter Sprigg
Senior Fellow for Policy Studies
Family Research Council
Washington, D.C.

My name is Peter Sprigg, and I represent the Family Research Council from Washington, D.C.

However, I am a former 14-year resident of Massachusetts.

It is reasonable for a legislative body to have concern about the safety and effectiveness of medical and psychological interventions for physical and emotional conditions.

For example, I have recently learned of a treatment for a widespread condition. I was surprised to read that this treatment is more effective than no treatment at all in only 20 percent of those experiencing the condition.

It was also troubling to learn that relapses are common with this condition—and the treatment under study was more effective than no intervention in preventing relapses in only 27 percent of those experiencing the condition.

And perhaps most troubling of all was to read “that teenagers consider suicide more often when [undergoing this treatment] . . . and also actually attempt to take their own lives more often.”

However, I am not aware that Massachusetts—or any other state—has taken steps to outlaw this treatment, despite its limited effectiveness and potential harms.

That’s because the condition I am talking about is not unwanted same-sex attractions, and the treatment is not sexual reorientation therapy (commonly, but inaccurately, referred to as “conversion therapy”).

Instead, the condition I was referring to is—depression. The treatment I was referring to is—antidepressant drugs. And the source of the information I have just shared with you is the National Institutes of Health.

I raise this comparison as a way of pointing out that the arguments used against sexual reorientation therapy and in favor of restrictions upon it—such as this bill—often hold such therapy to a standard which is wholly unrealistic for any medical or psychological care.

Is it possible to find people who will say that they underwent sexual reorientation therapy and found it ineffective? Of course—the same is true of any other treatment, especially for psychological conditions. However, there are also many people who have testified that such therapy was effective for them.

Is it possible to find people who will even say that they underwent such therapy and considered themselves to be in a worse condition after than before? Of course—but this, too, will be true of any psychological condition and any therapy. However, it is also possible to find people who underwent sexual reorientation therapy and felt that they were better off afterwards—even if the therapy was not effective in changing their sexual orientation.

Holding sexual reorientation therapy to a standard of 100 percent effectiveness together with zero risk is so unreasonable as to be irrational.

Therefore, I hope it is clear to everyone in this body that the purpose of this bill is not to protect anyone’s physical or psychological health. The real purpose is to impose an ideology, and outlaw a desire—the desire that some individuals, including some minors, unquestionably have to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions and abstain from same-sex sexual relationships.

That is not the business of this legislature.