This legislative session, AIDS Action Committee has joined the coalition of advocates working to pass a bill banning Massachusetts licensed professionals from providing conversion therapy to change gender identity and/or sexual orientation in minors. In early June, the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities held a hearing on the bill and AIDS Action Committee submitted the following testimony:

Re: An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors (S. 62/H. 1190)

Dear Chair Flanagan, Chair Khan, and members of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities:

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts would like to go on record IN SUPPORT of S.62/H. 1190, An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors, and urges you to report this bill favorably.  

Founded in 1983, AIDS Action Committee is New England’s largest AIDS service organization. Our mission is to stop the epidemic and related health inequities by eliminating new infections, maximizing healthier outcomes for those infected and at risk, and tackling the root causes of HIV/AIDS including stigma and shame around sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors bans state-licensed professionals from providing fraudulent therapeutic practices that purport to change a minor’s same-sex attraction or gender identity. Known as conversion therapy, these practices can include dangerous methods such as induced nausea and electric shock therapy to produce shame and self-loathing. There is no evidence that these practices have any effect on sexual orientation or gender identity. Universally condemned by the medical and behavioral health establishment, conversion therapy can lead to deep trauma, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. Conversion therapy can be especially harmful to minors, who are uniquely vulnerable to these negative effects.[i]

Family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity, including conversion therapy, has a devastating effect on young people. According to research conducted by San Francisco State University, youth feel that “by rejecting their gay or transgender identity – a very core part of who they are as a person – their parents are rejecting all of who they are.”[ii] LGBT youth rejected by their families are at much higher risk for medical and behavioral health problems and are more than three times as likely to be at high risk for sexually transmitted infections including HIV than peers with more accepting families.[iii] By rejecting certain gender identities and sexual orientations as wrong, sinful, and/or in need of medical intervention, families contribute to the shame and stigma surrounding sexuality and gender identity.

Conversion therapy proponents often weaponize HIV as a scare tactic and worst case scenario for their clients. In talking points for National Ex-Gay Pride Month, conversion therapy advocacy group PFOX asks “How many gay men would still be alive today if someone had told them that there was a way out of homosexuality? AIDS and suicide took them away from us.”[iv] When Vice President Mike Pence was running for Congress in 2000, he included this issue on his campaign website, suggesting that Congress should only reauthorize federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs that do not “celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” and instead should send resources to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”[v]

HIV is a virus neither caused nor influenced by sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather, it is the shame, stigma, and discrimination perpetuated by these claims that is truly dangerous. The recently released Massachusetts Comprehensive Plan to Eliminate HIV Discrimination, AIDS Related Deaths, and New HIV Infections highlights the critical importance that the Commonwealth do all it can to mitigate and reduce HIV-related stigma, and passing this bill to ban conversion therapy is an important step in this direction.[vi] 

For the reasons above, AIDS Action Committee urges you to report An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors (S. 62/H. 1190) favorably.

[i] Policy and Position Statements on Conversion Therapy. HRC. Accessed at http://www.hrc.org/resources/policy-and-position-statements-on-conversion-therapy.

[ii] Ryan, C. Supportive families, healthy children: helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. Family Acceptance Project, San Francisco State Univ; 2009. Accessed at http://cchealth.org/topics/lgbtq/pdf/supportive_families.pdf

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Celebrate National Ex-Gay Pride Month with PFOX! PFOX Blog; 2014. Accessed at http://www.pfox.org/celebrate-national-ex-gay-pride-month-with-pfox/.

[v] Stack, Liam. Mike Pence and ‘Conversion Therapy’: A History. The New York Times; 2016. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/30/us/politics/mike-pence-and-conversion-therapy-a-history.html.

[vi] Massachusetts Getting To Zero Coalition. Massachusetts Comprehensive Plan to Eliminate

HIV Discrimination, AIDS Related Deaths, and New HIV Infections. Getting to Zero MA; 2016. Accessed at http://www.gettingtozeroma.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/GtZ-Blueprint_v1-2.pdf.

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