Ex-gay therapy isn’t free speech

Posted on 07 Dec 2012 at 10:15am

In blocking Calif. ban on practice from taking effect, judge wrongly suggests 1st Amendment protects harmful efforts to turn kids straight

Wayne BesenIn an odd court decision released Monday, Dec. 3, federal Judge William Shubb temporarily blocked California from enforcing a groundbreaking law that prohibits anti-gay therapists from trying to turn gay minors straight. However, the order was quite narrow, applying to only the three plaintiffs that sued to overturn Senate Bill 1172.

“Even if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on speech,” Shubb wrote.

It seems that judge is a bit confused about the First Amendment. He appears to believe that it gives mental health providers license to say whatever they want even if it is not in the best interest of clients. Such thinking makes a mockery of medicine and fails to distinguish between normal lay people and trusted practitioners. It treats medical and mental health experts as if they are op-ed columnists or talk radio hosts, with their personal views superseding their professional opinions.

Apparently, the judge seems blissfully unaware that the toxic words of a biased shrink can sometimes be as harmful as a scalpel in the wrong hands. The wounds of “ex-gay” survivors are real, they are devastating, and they can sometimes last a lifetime. It seems that the judge, however, believes words are just words, regardless of intent or content or the entrusted authority of those delivering them.

Shubb appears unduly concerned that enactment of SB 1172 might disrupt the livelihood of Christian therapists Anthony Duk, Donald Welch, as well as Aaron Bitzer, a so-called “ex-gay” who is studying to become a reparative therapist.

“Because plaintiffs have also shown that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction, that the balance of equities tips in their favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest, the court grants plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.”

However, their careers should be derailed, in the same way disbarring a crooked attorney or imprisoning a financial whiz that creates illegal pyramid schemes should affect their job prospects.

Without a doubt, reparative therapy brazenly stands in direct opposition to standard mental health guidelines. It erroneously portrays homosexuality as a mental illness and gay people as mentally ill. To quote convicted felon Arthur Abba Goldberg of Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, “Every person that we work with is really a heterosexual person who may have a homosexual problem.”

The question is why Shubb would imprudently enable such embarrassingly unprofessional conduct? Does he think its reasonable or responsible for “therapists” billing themselves as experts to tell vulnerable 13- and 14-year-old gay kids that they are nuts and suffering from a curable malady?

Furthermore, I’d like to know specifically which part of reparative therapy the good judge endorses. Is it the part where a client is made to pretend that oranges are testicles and then suck out the juice to ingest his manhood? Is it the practice of telling clients to get naked in front of a mirror and touch themselves to help with body image issues? Is it the idea of male clients calling friends dude and drinking Gatorade to increase masculinity? Is it the creation of a “masturbation action plan” to help with same-sex urges?” Maybe it’s the technique where clients are told to wear a rubber band and snap it on their wrist whenever they find someone attractive?

Or, possibly, he thinks it’s healthy to give exorcisms to LGBT youth?

It could be that he identifies with the part where male clients tell their wives, “I need to be the man of the house. Let me be the man of the house. Dominant women only demasculinize men.” Or, maybe, Judge Shubb is attracted to the exercise where a client severely beats an effigy of his mother with a tennis racket while deliriously screaming her name?

Shubb should fully understand that when he protects reparative therapists he is wholeheartedly promoting and endorsing such outlandish quackery. It becomes particularly damaging when such demented “therapeutic” techniques are practiced on LGBT youth.

Finally, Shubb appears sympathetic to the dangerous argument that faith-based doctors are entitled to get a free pass when it comes to ethical and humane treatment for its adherents.

“This court would be hard-pressed to conclude that SB 1172 is content- and viewpoint-neutral,” wrote Judge Shubb. “Accordingly, because it appears that SB 1172 lacks content and viewpoint neutrality, it is likely that it must ultimately be assessed under strict scrutiny.”

What an absolutely silly argument. Our laws make the distinction between dangerous religious viewpoints, such as the idea that man should be put to death if he engages in homosexual acts, and civil laws that protect LGBT people from stone-throwing zealots. The same is true for reparative therapy, in that a therapist can personally hold antiquated views, but he is not entitled to inflict barbaric practices at the expense of his client’s mental health and well-being.

This trial is not over. If Shubb wants to protect his legacy, he will stop providing a platform for such lunacy disguised as legitimate therapy.      •

Wayne Besen is founding executive director of Truth Wins Out, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization that fights anti-gay religious extremism. He can be reached at WBesen@TruthWinsOut.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 7, 2012.

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