Six years ago when she was only 15, Alex Cooper’s life changed when she came out to her Mormon family as a lesbian. Her parents took her to Utah where, for eight months, she was subjected to dangerous “conversion therapy” practices.
“My story is not an easy one to tell,” Alex wrote in her new book, Saving Alex, about her experience. “No one should be beaten, or be told that God doesn’t want them, or be sent to dangerous so-called ‘conversion therapy’ because they are gay. No family should feel they have to choose between their faith and their child.”
So-called “conversion therapy” is a practice that preys on vulnerable LGBT people and families by making damaging and discredited claims that the practice can change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization of decades, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and multiple United Nations committees.
But persistent discrimination and societal bias against LGBT people have allowed some practitioners to continue to conduct debunked “conversion therapy.” Minors, already experiencing bias and rejection at alarming rates in society and their own homes, are especially vulnerable to this junk science that can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.
Alex eventually escaped the “conversion therapy” center and made history by winning the right to be emancipated from her parents, and to live under the law’s protection as an openly gay teenager. But LGBTQ youth are still being subjected to “conversion therapy” in several states across the nation.
“Alex Cooper’s story is a call to action,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “We must put a stop to this brutal practice of conversion therapy and ensure that every child is embraced for who they are in their homes, schools and communities.”
Last week, HRC, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal consumer fraud complaint against People Can Change (PCC), a Virginia-based organization that actively practices “conversion therapy.”
The complaint, which asks to Federal Trade Commission to take enforcement action to stop PCC’s deceptive practices and investigate all practitioners making similar claims about changing people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, comes as the movement to end “conversion therapy” continues to gain momentum.
California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting LGBT minors from “conversion therapy,” and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation this year. New York is also adopting regulations to protect youth from “conversion therapy” as a result of executive action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.