As a child undergoing conversion therapy in Florida in the early 2000s, I could never have imagined how different this nation would be nearly 20 years later. I could not have fathomed the power and hope inspired by the national debate and coast-to-coast enactment of laws designed to save thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth from this dangerous and discredited practice each year.
When I came out at the age of 11, I was met with physical abuse meant to scare me straight, and then taken to a counselor who told me I was an abomination in the sight of God.
I was told that, as penance, I was destined to be stricken with HIV and AIDS and persecuted by the government. The “treatment” continued for years, alternating between deeply shaming talk therapy and aversive physical techniques meant to destroy my desire to ever again touch a man. Eventually I lied, proclaiming I was straight just to make them stop. But by then, the damage was already done.
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Although so-called conversion therapy takes many forms, every variation of this practice causes harm to the person being told that who they are or whom they love is something that can or should be corrected. In fact, the harms of conversion therapy can be a matter of life and death.
Therapy shouldn't turn deadly
According to new research by the Family Acceptance Project, rates of attempted suicide by LGBT young people whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation were more than double (48 percent) the rate of LGBT young adults who reported no conversion experiences (22 percent).
Suicide attempts nearly tripled for LGBT young people who reported both home-based efforts to change their sexual orientation by parents and formal intervention efforts by external parties, such as therapists and religious leaders (63 percent).
But in the face of these tragic statistics and the ongoing reality of conversion therapy, there is cause for hope. This year was greatly successful in the history of efforts to end conversion therapy, with new legislation passing in five states (Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire and Washington). Washington, D.C., is on the cusp of making its law even stronger, aiming to protect not just youth but anybody who has a legal guardian from being forced into this practice.
Today, LGBTQ youth are protected from conversion therapy in 14 states and Washington, representing a massive change since California passed the first such law in 2012. In fact, I just sent thank-you cards to the more than 2,000 state lawmakers who have supported legislation to protect youth from conversion therapy, including representatives in states like Kentucky, Idaho and Texas.
Ban conversion therapy in every state
But the work is far from complete. Thirty-six states still allow the practice of conversion therapy, and youth continue to be sent to licensed therapists and other counselors promising change.
According to research by The Williams Institute, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy at UCLA School of Law, an estimated 698,000 LGBT adults ages 18 to 59 in the country received conversion therapy at some point in their lives, including approximately 350,000 who received the treatment as adolescents.
Last January, the institute estimated that “20,000 LGBT youth ages 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before the age of 18.” However, scholars there told me that they estimate 1,000 youth will be protected from conversion therapy in the five states that passed legislation in 2018.
I’ll repeat that: Because of the laws passed this year alone, 1,000 minors have been saved from the shame and pain of conversion therapy. Even so, 19,000 youth receiving conversion therapy under the guise of professional treatment is still far too many.
That is why my organization, The Trevor Project, is committed to growing our 50 Bills 50 States campaign to submit legislation in every state to end conversion therapy. It is our mission to be the world’s largest grassroots campaign against conversion therapy, and with advocates nationwide, we’re making a real difference in the lives of LGBTQ youth.
But we can’t let up. The knowledge that, this year, 1,000 youth were saved from the trauma of damage and destruction of conversion therapy should invigorate us to work even harder in 2019. Together with national partners and state and local leaders across the country, we’re going to build on the momentum from 2018 until every youth in every state is protected.
Sam Brinton is a conversion therapy survivor and the head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention organization for LGBTQ youth. Follow Brinton on Twitter @sbrinton.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: I survived conversion therapy as a child. Now, I'm part of the movement to ban it for good.