Tribune editorial: Don’t fix people who aren’t broken

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Caitlin Ryan, PH.D, ACSW speaks on the critical role of family support in preventing suicide and promoting well-being for LGBT youth during the Stronger Communities conference at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted the event, bringing in experts, mental health professionals and LGBTQ leaders.

If it ain’t broke, the old saying goes, don’t fix it.

At best, it would be a waste of time. More likely, an attempt to fix something that didn’t need it is likely to make things worse, maybe much worse, than would be the case if it were just left alone.

The concept of “fixing” human beings as if they were clocks or cars, rather than complex and unique persons, has always been a little iffy. And when it came to the idea that some form of psychiatry or psychotherapy could take a homosexual or bisexual person and “fix” them, remaking them into a heterosexual person, the idea was downright dangerous. If not deadly.

Thus the proposal that will be put to the Utah Legislature next year to ban the practice of what’s called “conversion therapy" for minors.

Advocates have counted 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, where such a ban is already in effect. Utah should definitely join that list.

Conversion therapy, which can range from a lot of talking to the use of electrodes, is based on the idea that not only is it wrong to be gay but also that it is on some level a choice and thus open to a person changing their mind if given enough encouragement — or coercion.

The mental health profession has not only abandoned the practice, it has pronounced it downright harmful. So has Utah’s dominant faith — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is now well accepted that trying to “cure” someone of homosexuality is foolish and damaging.

Sexual orientation is not a choice. It is what someone is. Any attempt, especially from any kind of professional or other authority figure, to pull, push, cajole, threaten, wean, entice, badger, force or manipulate a person to change that aspect of their innate personality is destined to fail and likely to cause real harm — anything from sadness and confusion to suicide.

It would be beyond the reach of the state to tell an adult that he or she may not seek out advice or help if they are not comfortable with their sexuality, or any other intimate aspect of their lives. Or to tell religious organizations what they should preach and what advice they should give to their followers.

But it is, and should be, within the purview of a state to tell the doctors and therapists it licenses that they may not attempt practices that are known to be useless at best, and potentially fatal at worst, on those who have not reached the age of consent.

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