The American Psychological Association updated and strengthened its policy opposing efforts to change a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation. The association also accepted new guidelines for psychological practice with sexual minority persons.
The Feb. 26 declaration expands the APA’s stance that conversion therapy is unethical and unprofessional. The resolution offers new ammunition to state licensing boards to revoke the license of any professional who performs conversion therapy.
“There is a growing body of research that shows that transgender or nonbinary gender identities are normal variations in human expression of gender,” said APA President Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD. “Attempts to force people to conform with rigid gender identities can be harmful to their mental health and well-being.”
The APA action is partly a reaction to years of disinformation by anti-LGBT activists. In 2019, NBC News observed that a narrative of “transition regret” was being generated by social conservatives to fuel public misconceptions and hostility toward transgender people.
The APA resolution opposes this “dissemination of inaccurate information” and said gender-identity change efforts “cause harm by reinforcing anti-transgender and anti-gender nonbinary stigma and discrimination; and by creating social pressure on an individual to conform to an identity and/or presentation that may not be consistent with their sense of self.”
In a concurrent resolution, the APA reiterated its opposition to using “nonscientific explanations” to frame “same-gender and multiple-gender orientations” as unhealthy and in need of change.
Both resolutions coincide with new APA guidelines for professional counseling. In the new guide, the APA said, “Psychologists are encouraged to validate, normalize, and assist others in understanding the complex interactions [among] sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, keeping cultural differences in mind.”
Conversion-therapy advocates typically oppose such professionalism, warning clients that they are failures if they do not single-mindedly pursue conformity in both sexuality and gender.
The APA resolutions cite extensive research about the harms of conversion therapy. Survivors of these practices know the harm first-hand.
Mathew Shurka was subjected to conversion therapy from age 16 to 21. “My therapists were just doing what the leaders of the conversion-therapy movement told them to do,” Shurka says. “They taught me to blame my parents for my orientation. They told me not to communicate with my mother and sisters for three years. Their so-called ‘talk therapy’ conditioned me to hate and shame myself. After five years, I was having suicidal thoughts. It had to stop.”
Ky Schevers is another survivor: From 2013 to 2020, Schevers used social media to communicate her efforts to “detransition” or change her gender identity, and proclaimed that all gender dysphoria is false. But then Schevers reversed course, acknowledging that “detransitioned” people still struggle in private against feelings of gender dysphoria that they cannot suppress. In other words, their gender-identity change effort didn’t work. Now Schevers believes that the handful of detransitioners deserve support, but not at the expense of transgender people.
“It’s very similar to ex-gay communities where there’s a story out there that people ‘change’ and it’s great and everything,” Schevers told Slate. “No one really changes. They learn to keep their desires under control.”
Both Shurka and Schevers were pressured to change by a movement that simultaneously works to obstruct access to mainstream health care and social support. “Trans people deserve access to support,” Schevers said, “and it makes no sense to shut down people’s access to medical transition just because some people end up detransitioning.”
Born Perfect is a survivor-led program created by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) in 2014 to end conversion therapy by passing laws across the country that protect LGBTQ children and young people, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices. https://bornperfect.org