Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"It's a choice." Lingering negative effects of an argument without basis

Michael Cass reports in today's Tennessean about last night's Metro Council meeting in which the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination was briefly discussed with respect to its being deferred until Feb. 15. He relates the comments of Councilman Mike Jameson, one of the sponsors, on the whole "Is sexual orientation a choice?" issue:

Councilman Mike Jameson, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said opposition to the proposal tends to stem from the belief that homosexuality is a choice. He asked critics to spend the next two weeks thinking about whether that's true."I would submit to you that … no, it is not a choice," he said.

Sadly enough, the erroneous belief that sexual orientation is a choice is having negative effects in a number of policy debates in Tennessee. The argument goes something like this: It's a choice and it's a bad choice so why would we want to protect "homosexual behavior" by law?

Well, I'm going to leave it to the experts at the American Psychological Association to handle this one. But before I do, I need to remind everyone that religion, which is a protected class, is a choice. Now back to the APA:

Is sexual orientation a choice?

No, human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight. For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.

Can therapy change sexual orientation?

No; even though most homosexuals live successful, happy lives, some homosexual or bisexual people may seek to change their sexual orientation through therapy, often coerced by family members or religious groups to try and do so. The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable. However, not all gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who seek assistance from a mental health professional want to change their sexual orientation. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people may seek psychological help with the coming out process or for strategies to deal with prejudice, but most go into therapy for the same reasons and life issues that bring straight people to mental health professionals.

What about so-called "conversion therapies"?

Some therapists who undertake so-called conversion therapy report that they have been able to change their clients' sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Close scrutiny of these reports, however show several factors that cast doubt on their claims. For example, many of these claims come from organizations with an ideological perspective that condemns homosexuality. Furthermore, their claims are poorly documented; for example, treatment outcome is not followed and reported over time, as would be the standard to test the validity of any mental health intervention.

The American Psychological Association is concerned about such therapies and their potential harm to patients. In 1997, the Association's Council of Representatives passed a resolution reaffirming psychology's opposition to homophobia in treatment and spelling out a client's right to unbiased treatment and self-determination. Any person who enters into therapy to deal with issues of sexual orientation has a right to expect that such therapy will take place in a professionally neutral environment, without any social bias.

-Chris Sanders (with lots of help from the APA)

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