Conversion therapy has no success rate and has been shown to increase suicidality and depression … so why do we still have it?

Homosexuality is a problem that needs to be fixed.

That's the message behind Colorado's recent vote to uphold the practice of gay conversion therapy in our state. On Monday, the Republican majority on a state Senate panel voted against a bill that would have limited the practice and banned its use on people under 18.

If you know anything about conversation therapy, you know this is crazy. An often-religious attempt to "convert" gay people into heterosexuals, conversation therapy is lambasted in the medical community because of the way it treats homosexuality as a disease that needs to be cured. It's dangerous, sometimes even fatal, and has been shown to increase the risk of suicide and depression among LGBTQ youth. It also doesn't work … at all. Obviously.

This is why currently, six other states ban or limit psychotherapy which seeks to change the sexual orientation of minors. However, thanks to Colorado's desire to continue the reign of homophobia, we will not be joining them.

We're not rocket scientists or anything, but this is problematic for a state like Colorado who purports to be "progressive and healthy." A state that's routinely voted healthiest place to live should not be allowing a practice that the American Psychological Association has denounced to occur, right? Especially given why the APA looks down on it so much.

According to a 2009 report of the American Psychological Association, conversion therapists have used techniques that mimic torture to try to change sexual orientation and gender identity.  As the National Center for Lesbian Rights reported:

These include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; providing electric shocks; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; orgasmic reconditioning; and satiation therapy. Other techniques include trying to make patients’ behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills, using hypnosis to try to redirect desires and arousal, and other techniques—all based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBT is a defect or disorder.

In some cases, these techniques are so damaging that they lead to mental illness in suicide. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding that the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

The risks are even greater for youth.  Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity face especially serious health risks. Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Then there's the problem of conversion therapy making the false assumption that people can simply flip the switch that makes them gay.

The American Psychiatric Association has called this out too, issuing a statement saying it “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”

Paradoxically, there's a double-edged sword here. Sexuality conversion doesn't work the other way; straight people can't force themselves to be gay, so why should gay people be able to force themselves hetero?

Sex columnist Dan Savage called this out expertly last year when Ben Carson came out saying that "being gay is a choice and prison proves it," thereby implying that the homosexual activity some people experience behind bars could magically convert someone to another sexuality.

In a very nicely worded letter Savage wrote to Carson that he was free to test his theory out on him.

Dear Dr. Carson,

    If being gay is a choice, prove it. Choose it. Choose to be gay yourself. Show America how that's done, Ben, show us how a man can choose to be gay. Suck my dick. Name the time and the place and I'll bring my dick and a camera crew and you can suck me off and win the argument.

    Very sincerely yours,
    Dan Savage

Carson still has yet to take Savage up on his offer.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted a comprehensive review of the published literature on these practices and concluded that they are not supported by any reliable evidence. In fact, the APA found that the opposite was true: “The results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex sexual attractions or increase other-sex attractions through SOCE.”

Similarly, in 2000, the American Psychiatric Association published a statement concluding that: “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”

Okay, so, to summarize so far: gay conversion therapy is dangerous, based on incorrect assumptions about homosexuality, and completely ineffective.

So what is it still doing in Colorado? Or anywhere for that matter?

Well, as Republican opponents to the bill the Colorado bill said, banning it could "limit free speech rights."

… Sorry, what? That's the argument that kept conversion therapy legal in Colorado?

Free speech is certainly an American ideal and a constitutional right, but that doesn't mean we should abuse to engage in practices that have been clearly shown to be harmful. There has to be a line between invoking the First Amendment and hurting others, especially those that are in already-marginalized populations. As a country and a people, shouldn't we be more concerned about caring for the welfare of our youth than are about our right to spread misinformation?

LGBT teens under 18 are the most vulnerable population with the highest risk of suicide, drug abuse and depression stemming from religious or family rejection of their homosexuality. So, if anything, we should be passing legislation that protects them from so-called therapeutic practices that stress self-hate and rejection.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme court has declined to hear free-speech challenges to New Jersey's conversion therapy ban … so we don't really think that free speech is as good of a justification for hate as some Colorado legislators think it is. And when New Jersey has more progressive, informed legislation than Colorado, something is seriously wrong.