Guest Columnists

Stop conversion therapy in Iowa

Gov. Terry Branstad appointed a board to study so-called “gay conversion therapy” earlier this year. The Iowa Board of medicine is currently considering banning the therapy. These are yet more stalling tactics to maintain a practice that is inhumane, degrading, ineffective, and harmful.

The “therapy” attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation through abusive clinical tactics, assuming that it can be changed, despite evidence to the contrary. “Gay conversion therapy” cannot be justified under any pretext, yet the governor continues to coddle to a socially conservative and unscientific Christian right that dismisses the strong empirical evidence that counters their justification for the practice and apologize for them.

Bills have been proposed in the Iowa Legislature, yet are continually blocked by Republicans. Last year, the Senate passed a bill, yet the Republican-controlled House flatly rejected it.

We need to place the onus on Governor Branstad now and demand that he sign an Executive Order banning “gay conversion therapy.”

This “therapy’s” main effects are to further stigmatize LGBTs for their sexual preferences, delegitimizing their very identities, drawing them into a closet, leading to social exclusion, bullying, self-hate, suicide, and in some cases, homicide.

The FBI reports that reported hate crimes are committed against LGBTs more than any other group. By not taking a stand against “gay conversion therapy,” that is, by banning it via executive order, he sends the signal that perhaps the “therapy” is a sound practice, that deluded apologists for the practice are correct in the delegitimization of a person’s identity related to their sexuality, legitimizing perpetrators’ understanding of sexual minorities that inspires their violence.

“Gay conversion therapy” is opposed almost across the board in medical science. The strategies to “change” a person’s sexual orientation, like shock therapy, psychoanalytic “curing,” lobotomies and more, have been discredited, are unnecessary, are obviously cruel, and are even perhaps unconstitutional.

Numerous states have enacted measures barring licensed health providers from offering the practice. This year, New York’s Governor Cuomo issued an executive order barring insurance companies from providing coverage for this “therapy.” Governor Branstad could follow Cuomo’s lead and go further by banning licensed medical professionals to offer the “therapy” clinically.

Further, a Circuit Court upheld the constitutionality of California’s ban in 2013. A New Jersey court ruled that “gay conversion therapy” violates consumer protection laws.

Complaints have been filed with the FTC alleging the “therapy” constitutes consumer fraud, explaining that the “therapy” assumes sexual orientation can be changed, without data backing up the claim. Numerous psychological and medical organizations have expressed their disgust at the practice, showing its empirical uselessness and harmful effects on patients.

In other words, it is near unanimously understood by doctors and scientists and the civilized world that a non-heterosexual sexual preference is not a mental disorder.

Medieval ideology, blatant disregard for empirical facts, and pure bigotry maintain this “therapy.” The existence of this “therapy” tells people of non-heterosexual orientations that they are “ill” and need “help” and that a “cure” is available for them, myths all of which have been debunked repeatedly.

It’s nonsensical that a “board” is needed to determine whether the practice should be banned.

There is nothing wrong with being gay. Not outright banning the “therapy” empowers bullies and their hateful disregard for non-heterosexual people; it stalls our long struggle to live freely, openly and truthfully without fear of getting mocked and slaughtered for walking a certain way.

This action is urgent as violence against LGBTs is on the rise and now in the wake of a homicidal, manic terrorist targeting queer people. Bullies, bigots, and murderers should not be fed this justification and enabling.


Iowa was one of the first states to provide marriage equality. Many of its cities are ranked by LGBT organizations as the “most gay-friendly” in the nation. The governor has this chance to courageously stand up for tolerance and against the venomous hate and dehumanizing of people of alternative sexualities.

• Andrew Burtlow, of Iowa City, is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa and a future law student.

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