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SINGH: Conversion therapy must be rejected, increase acceptance

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Close your eyes and imagine ... Or rather open your eyes and simply look around you. The year is 2019. We are living in a society that has introduced electric as well as self-driving cars to our ever-growing highways. We have the International Space Station floating 32,333 cubic feet in volume, functioning in pressurized space. We have "smart shoes" that are capable of lacing themselves up. Yet, despite all the technological progress we have made, we still have very problematic ideologies that have not kept up with our other advances, one being sexualism. 

Sexualism is the discrimination of sexual orientation that is still very predominant in this day and age. A troublesome story on CNN about Andy Taylor was recently brought to my attention. Taylor is an openly gay male in his 20s who resides in the United Kingdom. He was very involved with his local church which is located in Liverpool, England. As a hands-on member of the church community, Taylor met several leaders who were like friendly role models to him. They encouraged Taylor to partake in therapy sessions that were preconceived, unbeknownst to him, to make him believe he was straight. 

This act is known as conversion therapy, a pseudoscientific practice geared towards changing someone’s sexuality — typically from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. This is an ineffective strategy as sexuality is not a choice and thus the “patient” is psychologically manipulated into feeling a certain way they do not necessarily agree with. The practice is built on the belief that one’s own sexuality can be “cured,” and the “patient” often ends up with more psychological harm than they first started out with. 

Being gay automatically puts one in a marginalized minority group that faces much discrimination, hate speech and violence. In today’s times, it is still hard to openly come out when there exists so much homophobia that pressures people into partaking such forms of "therapy." Conversion therapy is extremely detrimental to mental health and only convinces the patient that there is something “wrong” with them for having an unconventional sexual orientation. It adamantly enforces gay stereotypes that homosexuals/bisexuals should not be treated as equals to the rest of the world. 

An LGBTQ youth study conducted at San Fransisco State University showed that LGBTQ people that were rejected by their caregivers due to their sexual identities were eight times more likely to attempt suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use drugs and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for STDs or HIV as compared to LGBTQ people that were either fully accepted or received minimal rejection by their caregivers. 

In his therapy session, Taylor was asked sensitive questions about his insecurities, traumatic moments and his experiences with men. "They knew what outcome they wanted ... They looked for big emotional buttons to press, and they would just pick at them until I started crying," he said. The so-called therapist would attempt to maneuver and coax Taylor into making him believe something else. 

For example, Taylor was asked, “When was the first time you saw your mother cry?" Once Taylor responded, the therapist told him “You have an overabundance of compassion, and you interpret that to mean you are sexually attracted to men.” This is morally and ethically wrong, as an LGBTQ person allows themselves to get emotionally vulnerable in a situation like this, just to be manipulated by someone they thought they could trust. On developing LGBTQ youth, this causes much emotional strain as well as trust issues among a demographic that is already susceptible to mental illnesses. 

According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Government Equalities Office, 1 in 20 people have been offered conversion therapy in the U.K. More than 100,000 people were surveyed and it is both highly alarming and concerning to hear how many of these people were exploited after making the efforts to open up about their sexuality. 

There is some progress being made in attempt to end this unethical practice worldwide. This month alone, New York passed a ban to bar mental health professionals from working on changing a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. New York lawmakers have been attempting to pass bills concerning conversion therapy since 2003, but not much progress was made. Things took a turn when Democrats took control of the legislature for the first time in a decade. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) said he would sign the bill, and in a statement said, “So-called LGBTQ conversion therapy is a fraudulent practice that has done untold harm to too many young people."

In order to combat prejudice and create a more welcoming environment, there should be more effort made in normalizing sexuality freedom. This can be done through talking about it, which generates awareness and eradicates ignorance. But more simply, there should not be rejection due to sexuality in the first place. At the end of the day, we are all people who deserve to love whomever we choose. Our sexuality should only concern ourselves and no one else.

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Here's to Your Health," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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