Published by Santa Fe New Mexican on Monday, March 6, 2017 7:00PM
By Roger Scott Powers
Each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. We are created good, and we are precious in God’s sight. Yet, young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are often told that who they are is bad and that they need to change — or face a life of rejection by their family, their faith and God.
When a family is in crisis because a child questions his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, parents often seek help from their faith community. As a pastor, I have two duties. The first is to the child, to assure him or her that she or he is loved and accepted as a child of God and that she or he is safe. My second duty is to the family, to support them as they try to grow in their understanding, love and acceptance of one another.
Protecting the child and healing the family are made more difficult when unscrupulous professionals prey on families in crisis and attempt to sell them a cure for what is not a disease under the false framework of “conversion therapy.” Most therapists understand that trying to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is harmful, wrong and abusive. But in every state, including New Mexico, some mental health professionals and companies continue to market, sell and perform so-called “conversion therapy.”
The New Mexico Senate has passed a bill — Senate Bill 121 — that would protect young LGBTQ people from the dangerous and discredited practice of “conversion therapy.” The House and the governor also must support this legislation.
New Mexico’s children and families have a right to expect that a therapist practicing under a license from the state will not put them at risk of severe harm, including depression, substance abuse and suicide. And we have the opportunity to make such protection a reality for our families this legislative season by banning the types of practices and harmful conduct that have been discredited by all of the country’s leading medical and mental health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
We in New Mexico love our kids, and we have many laws that protect them from known dangers, including child abuse and neglect, purchasing alcohol and tobacco, and bullying. We also have laws that protect all consumers from ineffective and unregulated medical treatments. To protect all of our youth and families, we need to outlaw a medical practice that uses false, misleading and deceptive claims.
This is not a measure that can be left for the next legislative session. One in 10 people is LGBTQ, and that means 1 in 10 of our youth is at risk of being subjected to an unscientific and discredited therapy that uses rejection, shame, verbal abuse, psychological abuse and even aversion techniques like electric shocks. These practices are known to be extremely dangerous and can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse and even suicide.
We cannot afford to lose one more youth to suicide. In 2013, according to the New Mexico Department of Health, our state had the sixth-highest youth suicide rate in the country. It has ranked among the top 10 states since 1995.
We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all of our children and youth, including those who identify as LGBTQ. It’s time to protect our kids by ending the harmful practice of “conversion therapy” in New Mexico.
The Rev. Roger Scott Powers is the pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque.