‘Chilling Effect’: States Are Cracking Down On Therapists Who Don’t Affirm Kids’ Trans Identities


by Laurel Duggan, The Daily Caller:

  • “Conversion therapy,” a term widely understood to mean bans on clinical attempts to get patients to stop feeling same-sex attractions, has been redefined with the encouragement of transgender activists to include attempts to change a patient’s “gender identity.”
  • Dozens of states have banned conversion therapy for minors under this new definition, leaving therapists concerned that they could be penalized if they don’t automatically affirm and encourage their underage patients’ transgender identities.  

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  • “I hear from therapists all the time that simply will not work with minors, or will not work with trans-identified/ gender-dysphoric/ questioning people, for fear of the consequences. So the only people who do work with this population are those who ‘affirm’ and a rare handful of thoughtful people who proceed with great caution,” Stephanie Winn, a marriage and family therapist in Oregon who was investigated by her licensing board over a spurious accusation of “conversion therapy,” told the Daily Caller News Foundation.  

State laws have made it effectively illegal for therapists to help children with gender identity issues come to terms with their natural bodies and biological sex in much of the country by labeling the practice an illegal form of “conversion therapy.”

While conversion therapy is broadly understood to refer to clinical attempts to get patients to stop feeling same-sex attractions, and has historically included practices like shock therapy, the term has expanded since the mid-2010s to include efforts by health care professionals to help gender-confused patients accept their birth sex rather than putting them on the transgender medicalization track. As states pushed new conversion therapy bans under this new definition, therapists are facing intimidation, legal battles and threat of licensure loss for offering a critical or exploratory approach to children who struggle with their gender identity. (RELATED: GROOMED: How They Get Your Kids)

“If someone tells you what their gender identity is you must affirm them; you must accept it at face value,” Joseph Burgo, a psychotherapist and vice director of Genspect, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “It has a chilling effect on the whole profession. I know therapists who avoid gender altogether because they’re afraid of activists coming after them.”

Many transgender activist groups advocate for conversion therapy bans; The Trevor Project, an LGBT activist group, called conversion therapy a set of “dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression” and blamed the practice for “depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality.” GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign offer similar definitions, which include gender identity in addition to sexual orientation, and GLAAD encourages media members to refer to crackdowns on the practice as “laws protecting LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy” rather than “laws banning conversion therapy for minors.”

“We do the work through legislative advocacy, litigation, public education, and partnerships with mental health associations, youth organizations, LGBTQ groups, student clubs, faith communities, and educational institutions,” the Trevor Project boasts on its website. “We also work with lawmakers in generating policy, providing survivor testimony, and demonstrating public support for ending conversion therapy.”

Over 20 states already have “conversion therapy” bans that bar therapists from helping minor patients accept their biological sex, typically by banning efforts to change these patients’ “gender identity” or “gender expression,” and several other states have licensing restrictions and other regulations that limit the practice.

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