Bianca Reátegui

Conversion therapy is unlike Christ

By  Bianca Reátegui, Youth Speak News
  • January 9, 2015

Four years ago, a priest gave a homily that has stuck in my mind ever since: “God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it.” He continued to say that there wasn’t a single thing a person could do, nor was there a single thing about a person that would make God stop loving that person — not his or her gender, race or sexual orientation.

The priest’s words were comforting, but also somewhat surprising to me because though God’s unconditional love is the essence of Catholicism, the homophobia and transphobia I had seen from some Christian groups didn’t testify to that love.

One of the more infamous examples of such discrimination is conversion therapy. Conversion therapy (also called reparative therapy) operates under the premise that homosexuality and transgenderism — the state of not identifying with one’s biological sex — can and should be changed. The therapy attempts to make those who are gay heterosexual and make transgendered individuals cisgender (gender that applies to a person’s biological sex).

Conversion therapy opposes current scientific thinking. Science upholds that homosexuality and transgenderism is not a choice. The effectiveness of conversion therapy has been disputed, but there is evidence that it can cause emotional and psychological harm. In 2009, the American Psychological Association released a list of the risks of the practice, which included depression, guilt, social withdrawal, increased suicide rates and a loss of faith.

Young people who may already be at risk for mental health issues are very vulnerable when exposed to conversion therapy. A Canadian study titled “Gay and Lesbian youth suicide” estimated that the risk of suicide for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth is 14 times higher than that of heterosexual youth. As well, a study done at San Francisco State University for The Family Acceptance Project showed that, compared to LGBT youth that faced little or no rejection from their families, highly rejected LGBT youth were more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide, and nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression.

In response to the suicide of a 17-year-old American transgender teen on Dec. 28, an online petition was created by the Transgender Human Rights Institute to enact “Leelah’s Law,” a ban on transgender conversion therapy in the United States. Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note (originally published on her Tumblr blog) described the parental rejection she faced for being transgender and her subjection to faith-based conversion therapy. Alcorn writes, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.” She ends the note with a plea: “Fix society. Please.”

A person never stops being a child of God, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity may be. God made His children the way they are and humanity was commanded to love one another as Jesus loved us.

(Reátegui, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.)

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