The Danger and Prevalence of Gay Conversion Therapy

Trigger Warning: The following article details gay conversion therapy and may not be suitable for all audiences.

The History of Gay Conversion Therapy

The first documented case of gay conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparative therapy” was in 1899 when a German psychiatrist used electroshock therapy coupled with hypnosis to turn a gay man straight. He believed that through this method he could make gay men have a life-long desire for women. What he didn’t know at the time is that he would cause the first wave in a series of dangerous attempts to change gay men and women into heterosexuals.

Conversion Therapy Today

Today, gay conversion therapy comes in many forms and is approached in numerous different ways, but at the core of gay conversion is the belief that one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression can effectively be changed. Despite popular belief, religious institutions are not the only ones who believe in conversion therapies. According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, 3% of youth who underwent conversion therapy received therapy through a healthcare professional, while 5% found help outside of a religious leader.

Conversion therapy methods range from talk-sessions which may contribute homosexuality to a disease or the result of childhood abuse, to aversive conditioning. Aversive conditioning is when an unpleasant stimulus (such as electric shock or physical abuse) is used as punishment to stop undesirable behavior, in this case, homosexuality. There are many other forms of conversion therapies which you can learn more about here.


What You Need To Know

Since 1973, the American Psychological Association has NOT classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. This declassification has been supported by all other major health professional organizations. The APA has also stated that because homosexuality is not a mental disorder, it cannot be cured nor does it need to be (

“No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.” – The American Psychiatric Association

Infographic by Rakshitha Raghunandan

What can we do to help protect members of the LGBTQ+ and transgender communities?

  1. Educate yourself on LGBTQ+ and transgender vocabulary, issues faced by survivors of conversion therapy, and ways you can aid in putting an end to conversion therapy. Below you can find some resources to get you started on your learning.
  2. Speak up about this issue in your everyday conversations and on social media if you can. Be sure to have all the facts of conversion therapy’s ineffectiveness and dangerous impacts. Ensure you are well researched so you do not contribute to the spread of false information.
  3. Join the Trevor Project’s “50 Bills 50 States” campaign which is the largest campaign in the world which aims to protect LGBTQ+ youth from the dangers of conversion therapy. They work with you to connect with LGBTQ+ equality groups in your area and help you contact state legislators to pass bills that will protect LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy. Join here.

Resources to Check Out:

50 Bills 50 States Campaign

2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health

Guide on How to Cover Conversion Therapy in the Media

The Human Rights Committee’s Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms

U.S. Map of Conversion Therapy Laws

Sources Used in This Article:

This article was written and researched by Tiffany Leveille

Graphics made by Rakshitha Raghunandan

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