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How to cover

conversion therapy
Conversion therapy is the discredited and dangerous
practice of attempting to forcibly change the sexual Quick Facts
orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. On Every major medical and mental health organization has
September 30, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed condemned the use of conversion therapy.1 None consider
into law California’s Senate Bill 1172, making it the conversion therapy effective in changing sexual orientation
first state in the country to protect LGBTQ youth from or support its use to alter gender identity.
the practice. As of January 2019, 15 states, dozens
of municipalities, and Washington, DC, have passed Conversion therapy has a myriad of harmful side effects,
including shame, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
measures protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion
therapy. However, conversion therapy remains a Conversion therapy is not just an LGB issue -- it affects
widespread problem. transgender and gender nonconforming people, too.

In January 2018, the Williams Institute estimated Conversion therapy includes a range of practices from talk
that 20,000 LGBTQ youth in the 41 states that did not therapy to shock and aversion treatments, all of which
protect them from it at the time would undergo the are considered harmful regardless of whether or not they
dangerous practice before they turn 18. The Williams cause immediate physical harm.
Institute also estimates that 698,000 LGBTQ adults
It’s important to include the stories and perspectives of
in the U.S. have undergone conversion therapy and conversion therapy survivors in media coverage if they are
that 6,000 LGBTQ youth who live in states with laws ready and willing to share their experience. Journalists can
protecting them from conversion therapy would have also talk to other credible voices who can speak to the harms
undergone the practice if their state had not passed of the practice, including supportive families, religious
protections. leaders, teachers, and mental health professionals.

Best practices for journalists covering conversion therapy

DO acknowledge that major medical and mental DON’T allow anti-LGBTQ groups to masquerade as
health organizations have condemned conversion legitimate medical organizations. Small anti-LGBTQ
therapy. More than a dozen mental health, medical, groups that support conversion therapy, in particular
and education organizations2 have condemned the the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds),
use of conversion therapy, finding it harmful and can be easily mistaken for legitimate medical
ineffective. They have found that sexual orientation organizations such as the American Association
and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed. of Pediatricians. This group does not represent
mainstream medical thinking and was formed
because it does not agree with general medical
consensus around LGBTQ people. If necessary to
include in coverage, include context about these

DO acknowledge that conversion therapy affects DON’T suggest that the most extreme forms of
transgender and gender nonconforming people. conversion therapy are the only ones that are
Conversion therapy affects the entire LGBTQ harmful.” Media coverage often refers to the practice
community and not just gay, lesbian, and bisexual as “gay conversion therapy.” This leaves transgender
individuals. Include the perspectives and stories of and gender nonconforming people out of the
transgender and gender nonconforming people, as conversation, even though the practice is also used
well as the people who support them, when possible. to attempt to change or deny their gender identity.

DO acknowledge that the harms of conversion therapy DON’T suggest that the most extreme forms of
manifest in many forms. While many of the extreme conversion therapy are the only ones that are harmful.
conversion therapy practices used in the past are less Conversion therapy involves a range of dangerous
common in contemporary conversion therapy, they are and discredited practices that falsely claim to change
equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or
danger to LGBTQ people. The American Psychological expression, from talk therapy to shock and aversion
Association3 includes depression, suicidality, anxiety, therapy. The entire range of these practices is
and several other side effects as dangerous social and dangerous and ineffective regardless of whether they
emotional consequences of the practice. cause immediate physical pain.

DO contextualize anti-LGBTQ extremists and groups if DON’T uncritically feature conversion therapy
including them in coverage. If reporting on anti-LGBTQ proponents, who often have anti-LGBTQ missions
proponents of conversion therapy, such as when they and ideologies. Outlets should be careful not to quote
sue over protections from the practice, outlets should misinformation from anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy
contextualize their extremism and history of anti- proponents. Pro-conversion therapy organizations tend
LGBTQ work. to have long histories of anti-LGBTQ animus and use
inaccurate information that may mislead audiences.

DO recognize that a range of credible voices, in addition DON’T underestimate survivors’ trauma, and know
to survivors, can speak to the harms of conversion that reliving their stories can be difficult for them.
therapy. While highlighting the stories of conversion If interviewing survivors of conversion therapy, be
therapy survivors helps humanize the issue, there are aware that they experienced trauma and respect their
a range of other people who can also credibly speak boundaries around telling their story. Sharing stories
about the dangers of conversion therapy. Journalists about their time in conversion therapy can trigger
can turn to affirming families of LGBTQ people, medical depression and other negative outcomes. Survivor
providers and mental health experts, teachers, and narratives can help accurately depict the realities of
others who can speak to the success of LGBTQ people their experiences and can highlight the harmful impacts
who are accepted in society. of the practice, though outlets should only ask survivors
to tell their story if they are ready and willing to do so.

DO recognize that anti-LGBTQ groups are trying to DON’T treat conversion therapy and reparative therapy
rebrand conversion therapy. Conversion therapy as different things. In reality, both terms mean the
proponents have attempted to brand the practice as same thing, and the distinction is entirely rhetorical and
“reparative therapy,” “re-integrative therapy,” and other superficial. All forms of conversion therapy, including
names in an attempt to claim their therapies do not talk therapy and aversion methods, are included under
involve shame, guilt, or aversion techniques. In fact, the the umbrella of conversion therapy or reparative
terms refer to the same harmful methods, and there is therapy. The phrase conversion therapy is generally
no difference between them. more commonly used.

DO include voices that are representative of the DON’T perpetuate a false dichotomy of ‘God vs. Gay’ by
broader faith community. Anti-LGBTQ Christians are letting anti-LGBTQ people speak on behalf of all people
not the only messengers for religious communities, of faith. Some media coverage of conversion therapy
and religious leaders4 across different faiths have attempts to pit religious people against the LGBTQ
condemned conversion therapy. Many faith leaders community. Not only is this an arbitrary and artificial
support efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion divide, it actually misrepresents how Americans feel
therapy, and it is inaccurate to suggest that religious about this issue. The majority of Americans⁵ believe
communities and LGBTQ people are at odds with one that homosexuality should be accepted, including
another on the issue. majorities of most religious groups.

Additional Resources
•• National Center for Lesbian Rights #BornPerfect Toolkit •• Media Matters:
Media Matters: As
As advocates
advocates work
work toto protect
protect LGBTQ
LGBTQ people
people from
•• Trevor Project Support Center conversion therapy,
conversion therapy, media
media often
often fail
fail to
to explain
explain its
its many
many harms
•• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline •• Media Matters:
Media Matters: How
How journalists
journalists can
can avoid
avoid spreading
•• GLAAD: Resources for Media Professionals misinformation about
misinformation about anti-LGBTQ
anti-LGBTQ conversion
conversion therapy
•• Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma: Interviewing Victims •• Search for
Search for Common
Common Ground:
Ground: Covering
Covering Trauma
• Trevor Project: 50 Bills in 50 States