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California Bans 'Gay-To-Straight' Therapy For Minors


And now to California where Governor Jerry Brown has signed a first-in-the nation law. It bans mental health professionals from trying to change the sexual orientation of those under the age of 18. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has details.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: The law applies to mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists, marriage and family therapists and clinical counselors. Violations would be considered unprofessional conduct and subject the practitioner to discipline by his or her credentialing agency. Abbe Land is executive director of the Trevor Project, a nationwide crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline for LGBT teens. People are born gay, Land says. Trying to change them is pointless and cruel - especially for young people.

ABBE LAND: We know that any message that a young person receives, that a child receives that says, you know the way you feel? Don't feel that way. You know the way you are? Don't be that way, that that's going to be very destructive to a young person's well-being.

BATES: New York psychiatrist, Jack Drescher, says this is usually the exact opposite of what well-meaning parents intend when they send their child to a conversion therapist.

DR. JACK DRESCHER: Since most of these treatments don't work, the end result is that the parents, unwittingly sometimes, hurt their child more than they help the child.

BATES: Dr. Drescher is a recognized expert in the psychological issues affecting LGBT communities. He says the new law is an important first step, but it's limited because it only addresses licensed therapists.

DRESCHER: The California law is complicated because first of all, I think the majority of people who are doing these practices actually aren't licensed professionals. So the problem is is that the law will not affect those people directly in any way.

BATES: Although it could put a damper on their counseling efforts. Mat Staver heads Liberty Counsel, a national organization that provides legal defense to conservative causes. Staver says this intrusiveness of the government into what should be a family decision is unprecedented. He's filing suit later this week, and is confident the California law will be overturned on constitutional grounds.

MAT STAVER: California is leading - maybe there's a state or two that's looking at California. But I think California will ultimately be the example of what not to do.

BATES: One of those states is New Jersey. It's assembly expects to see a similar bill introduced to its legislature later this month. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.