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Therapy gag orders threaten U.S., Canadian professionals

More bans on so-called conversion therapy are in the works


iStock.com/Victoria Denisova

Therapy gag orders threaten U.S., Canadian professionals

Miriam Grossman has three decades of experience as a psychiatrist for children, adolescents, and adults, including 12 years working with students at UCLA. She now provides telepsychiatry. A growing number of states are restricting what she can say to patients struggling with gender dysphoria.

So-called conversion therapy is now illegal in 20 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia and in 80 cities, according to Movement Advancement Project. This legislative session, lawmakers in at least four states—Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Wisconsin—have introduced bills to ban the practice.

Canada is considering a national law, bill C-6, that would criminalize conversion therapy. It would affect parents, churches, private schools, and professional practices. The bill targets “practices, treatments, or services” designed to change a person’s same-sex attraction or gender identity or “repress or reduce … sexual behavior” or gender expression, including pronouns and cross-dressing.

Grossman argues conversion therapy bans severely limit the freedom psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors have to help their patients. If, for example, Grossman met with a young female patient who identified as a boy and who perceived her counseling as unaffirming or gender critical, she could lose her medical credentials and licenses. In many states that ban conversion therapy, if that female patient came from a troubled home where she witnessed or experienced physical abuse, Grossman could not discuss the role those experiences played in the girl’s desire to be a boy.

“They are trying to muzzle us,” she said. “There is almost always some kind of emotional or neurological issue that would cause a child to reject her biological sex … this legislation prevents a therapist from exploring that.”

Some therapists are fighting back.

In November 2020, a federal appeals court sided with two therapists in Florida cities who argued ordinances banning conversion therapy for minors violated their free speech rights.

Similarly, in New York City, officials repealed a counseling ban last year and agreed to pay psychotherapist David Schwartz, an Orthodox Jew, $100,000 in attorney fees and nominal damages after he filed a federal lawsuit against the city arguing the ban infringed on his freedom of speech and religious faith. Schwartz regularly counsels patients who deal with unwanted same-sex attraction. The city’s ordinance would have made it illegal to provide services for a fee that seek to help someone change sexual orientation or gender identity.

Since bill C-6 was introduced in Canada, faith-based groups have held protests and sought to raise alarm about its scope. The Campaign Life Coalition said the bill will lead to criminal charges against parents who affirm their child’s biological gender or pastors, therapists, and counselors who provide guidance to individuals who voluntarily seek help with unwanted sexual feelings. Already one British Columbia father, Robert Hoogland, has gone to jail for violating a judge’s order that he not speak publicly about his daughter’s hormone therapy, which she is receiving without his consent. Hoogland turned himself in March 4. His attorney is arguing Friday for his release pending a trial in April.

Bill C-6 would also prohibit advertising or promoting counseling services for unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. Public messages, articles, pamphlets, books, web pages, web sites, and YouTube videos promoting a Biblical view of sexuality and gender could be seized or deleted.

The Campaign Life Coalition, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released separate statements and letters last year expressing concerns to the House of Commons’ Justice Committee. More than 20,000 Canadians signed a petition in opposition to the bill.

LGBT activists opposed to Bible-based therapy argue it causes psychological harm and could lead to suicide. Testimonials at public hearings tell stories of invasive tactics involving electroshock, dipping a person’s hands in cold water, or humiliation. But many of those reports of abuse are difficult to verify, one WORLD investigative report found.

Grossman worries therapy bans are forcing mental health professionals into silence. Instead of questioning and helping gender-confused children who may have legitimate underlying issues, they now face pressure to affirm and fast-track them into medical treatments and surgeries with lifelong effects.

“The child then goes through with the transition, including hormones and surgeries,” Grossman said. “When she is 25, she realizes she still hurts. It was never addressed.”


Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Greenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area.

@mbjackson77

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