Choice vs. Change

California’s Proposed Ban on Adult Conversion Therapy


Emma Chiu, Local News Editor

Bill 2943, which California Assemblyman Evan Low proposed on February 18, aims to outlaw conversion therapy, a process that is already illegal for minors in California and eight other states but remains lawful for adults.

Also commonly known as ex-gay therapy, reparative therapy, and sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), conversion therapy attempts to change members of the LGBTQ+ community to associate as heterosexual and cisgender.  This practice employs methods ranging from cold showers and counseling to exorcisms and electroconvulsive therapy (induced electric shocks), leading to debate over its ethicality and efficacy.

“[Conversion therapy] doesn’t work,” comments Antoine-Marie Neveu, a ninth grader in a Florida high school.  “I believe that those who go through conversion therapy end up faking a change so that they better fit with a group―such as a religious community, whether it be Christianity, Islam, or whatever.”

Even though Neveu personally disagrees with the bill, he would not support it if his state proposed it, arguing that while conversion therapy should be illegal for minors, adults should have the choice to undergo the process.

“As a happy gay guy, I wouldn’t feel any desire to go through that process… [but] if you’re old enough to vote, you have a right to do what you please,” Neveu explains.  “The process of conversion therapy is actually rather harsh, but people consent to it.”

Anthony Mueller, a Woodside English teacher and the advisor of the Rainbow Club, similarly sees conversion therapy as both ineffective and immoral, but has ambiguous feelings surrounding conversion therapy for adults.

“When it comes to children, we need to protect [them] from this unethical psychological manipulation,” Mueller declares.  “[But for adults], as long as the people that are authoring it are being upfront about the research behind it and the consumers of it are making an informed choice, I don’t see that it necessarily has to be illegal.  [Yet], because I see it as unethical, I think that it’s good to have laws that are coherent with my ethics.”

Tenth grader Caden Hansen, who identifies as queer and nonbinary, strongly opposes conversion therapy and supports the bill.  Unlike Neveu, Hansen wishes to outlaw conversion therapy for all age groups throughout America.

“Conversion therapy is terrifying,” Hansen states.  “Essentially, it’s trying to fix what isn’t broken, which ends up creating an entirely new set of issues on both individual and societal levels…  It’s incredibly important to emphasize the fact that being LGBTQ+ isn’t something to be afraid or ashamed of, and there’s no way to teach that if people are so disgusted with themselves they try to change who they are.”

Ultimately, Hansen predicts that the bill will pass in California due to the state’s progressive stance on most social issues and advocacy for gay rights. They hope that this leads to a greater nationwide discussions about LGBTQ+ acceptance.

“This is the kind of victory that keeps movements alive and inspires people to take action within their own states,” Hansen remarks.  “I’m optimistic about it.”

Mueller also believes that the bill will pass but doubts that it will affect policy in other parts of the country.

“People in these other states probably look to California as a counterexample for what they would like to do,” Mueller argues.  “There’s a lot of cultural antagonism in parts of the country against California’s progressive politics, so I would assume it wouldn’t have any domino effects on these other states.”

Despite Neveu, Mueller, and Hansen’s consensus on the future of California’s bill and a ban on conversion therapy for minors, the debate over adult conversion therapy will continue.

“I look at conversion therapy like abortion: I cannot choose what you do with your body,” Neveu ultimately reasons.

Meanwhile, Hansen views conversion therapy as reinforced homophobia and transphobia.

“In grade school, high school, even in to college, we’re all struggling to figure out who we are and that leaves us incredibly vulnerable,” Hansen contends.  “Imagine finally finding who you’re comfortable being after so many difficult years learning how to express yourself, and then you’re suddenly told you can’t be that person… Conversion therapy breaks down people who have spent their whole lives building themselves up. That’s what needs to be stopped.”