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Social Workers Condemn 'Conversion Therapy' Practice in Michigan

Thursday, February 15, 2018   (0 Comments)
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“NASW condemns the use of [conversion therapy] by any person identifying as a social worker or any agency that identifies as providing social work services... NASW supports the adoption of local, state, federal, and international policies and legislation that ban all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity” (Social Work Speaks, 2014)

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has been a long-time partner in the fight to end conversion therapy, also referred to as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). As a profession ethically charged with improving individual, community, and societal welfare, we contend that conversion therapy only damages all three, in sometimes irreparable ways.

Our Code of Ethics mandates that all social workers must ‘respect the dignity and inherent worth of a person.’ Conversion therapy is utterly contrary to this mandate. Conversion therapy is rarely, if ever, self-initiated. LGBTQ+ individuals - usually youth - are coerced into empirically disproven treatment by their families, their schools, their peer groups, and sometimes their churches. Inundated with messages that they are fundamentally wrong, they are urged to hate themselves - to see themselves as broken people who can only be fixed by rejecting their self-identity in favor of a falsehood. That isn’t dignity; that isn’t self-worth.

Social work is an evidence-driven practice. Consider that a Columbia Law School survey of peer-reviewed medical articles found that there is “no credible evidence that sexual orientation can be changed through therapeutic intervention,” nor can conversion therapy be performed without negative long-term mental health effects. Instead, conversion therapy tears families - and people - apart, with no consideration for the damage it wreaks in its attempts to ‘fix’ people.

In my private practice, I see multiple clients, both transgender and queer-identified, who went through conversion therapy and still suffer from the pain and trauma every day. They were told that they, as people, were ‘wrong’; that they were broken; that there was something inside of them that needed to be fixed. But that’s not how people work. That’s not how people should be treated. It is good and it is necessary to be who you are. Nobody has the right to change that.

As you read this article, these unethical practices are being carried out throughout the United States, including within Michigan communities. Detroit's Metro City Church (not to be confused with the LGBTQ-affirming Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit) and FORGE Ministries plan to hold an ‘Unashamed Identity Workshop,’ which purports to help girls as young as 12 years old ‘heal’ from their sexual identities. After public outcry, FORGE Ministries stopped advertising, but they have indicated that they still intend to hold the events. Protests are planned for every Thursday evening in front of Metro City Church.

As both a clinician and executive director of NASW-Michigan, I condemn this practice, and all those who practice and support it, in the strongest terms possible. Conversion therapy stands diametrically opposed to our core social work values, and my values as a human being.

NASW-Michigan has been working with state lawmakers for years to pass legislation to stop this practice. As in past sessions, State Representative Adam Zemke, along with several of his colleagues, introduced House Bill 5550, which “[prohibits] mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation and gender identity of a minor.” I urge all Michiganders to contact their representatives and speak in favor of this bill. We must join the 10 states who have already passed similar legislation, and show the rest of the nation that Michigan cares about its youth - no matter their identity.

Maxine Thome, PhD, LMSW, MPH, ACSW

Executive Director

National Association of Social Workers - Michigan

Dr. Maxine Thome is a social worker with a private practice in Lansing, Michigan and Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers – Michigan Chapter.



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