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Trans Conversion Therapy is Widespread, Study Says

Researchers say the dangerous practice is seen in every US state

Hundreds of thousands of transgender people nationwide have been exposed to conversion therapy — and it’s especially a problem in the mountain region.
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A whopping 13.5 percent of transgender Americans spanning every US state have been subjected to so-called conversion therapy in their lifetime, according to a new study published by the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers at the Fenway Institute, citing data from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Williams Institute of UCLA, concluded that the dangerous practice of trying to change a person’s gender identity has been attempted on an estimated 187,923 trans individuals. Conversion therapy focused on attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation is also prevalent, but was not considered for this study.

The data revealed especially disturbing realities of the widespread nature of the practice in the United States. Trans individuals have suffered from conversion therapy in certain states more than others: 9.4 percent of trans respondents in South Carolina, for example, said they were exposed to attempts to change their gender identity during their lifetime compared to 25 percent in Wyoming. Meanwhile, in the window of time between 2010 and 2015, 1.2 percent of trans Alaskans said they were exposed to it compared to 25 percent of Wyoming residents. Notably, trans people in the upper mountain region have been particularly exposed to conversion therapy, according to the study.

The research underscores the depth of a practice that has been increasingly curtailed across the nation: More than a dozen states and municipalities have banned the practice from being used on children. The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and numerous other professional groups oppose attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Dr. Jack Turban, who is one of the study’s authors and serves as a resident physician in psychiatry at The Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, told Gay City News that the findings are “extremely concerning.”

“We hope that these findings will encourage state lawmakers to move forward with legislation that bans gender identity change efforts,” Turban said. “Some state legislators have argued that this practice does not occur in their states. Our findings show that this is false; gender identity change efforts have happened in every state in the US.”

Legal hurdles that have largely limited states to banning conversion therapy on minors is problematic, according to the study’s authors, who are stressing that the negative impact of the practice on adults should not be understated.

“We believe that gender identity change efforts are dangerous for people of all ages,” Turban stated. “The practice promotes shame and subsequent mental health problems. Ideal legislative efforts would ban all gender identity change efforts.”

Still, the authors recommend that future studies should focus on conversion therapy among youths because previous research has indicated that there are stronger links between adverse mental health outcomes among adults who have been exposed to the practice when they were young.

“Given this exposure’s association with adverse mental health outcomes, the frequency of practice warrants public health attention,” the study noted.

Updated 11:03 am, August 21, 2019
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