World AIDS Day was Dec. 1, but throughout this month, we take time to educate, honor and engage the community in learning more about HIV and AIDS. The national theme for this year is “Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation” (http://1.usa.gov/TgfXfU). The United Nations’ World AIDS Day theme is “Getting to Zero” http://www.un.org/en/events/aidsday/.
Even as we make progress in our battle against HIV and AIDS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that nearly one in five HIV-infected individuals is unaware of his or her status. We know that social and economic factors play a role in increasing the risk of infection. Not only that, but the CDC reports that the Midwest is the only region in the nation in which HIV transmission has increased in recent years!
This is why it is so important to continue to promote testing and prevention education, as well as target HIV prevention to specific communities who are at higher risk (such as African American men and women, Latino men and women, and those dealing with shame). I encourage you to learn more about the current state of HIV and AIDS by reading the CDC’s four-page informational handout titled “Today’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic” at: www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/HIVFactSheets/TodaysEpidemic-508.pdf
Conversion therapy lawsuit: In September’s edition of Minding Your Health, I discussed California’s law banning mental health providers from practicing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) with minors. SOCE is sometimes called “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” and is a practice that claims to cure people from being gay. SOCE is considered unethical by nearly every major medical authority in the nation, as there is no evidence supporting its effectiveness. Not only that, but the false idea that homosexuality is an illness was disproven nearly 40 years ago. There is also significant evidence supporting the notion that these practices attempting to cure a person’s gayness actually cause elevated rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. This is because those who attempt to change their sexual orientation are often experiencing intense shame surrounding a core component of who they are. They may be desperate to find relief for this internal conflict, but often have limited education about what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and have little to no exposure to positive LGBT role models.
Mental health practitioners who practice SOCE have misled their clients based on the premise that being gay is wrong, is a disease, or is something that can be fixed.
Well, finally, Americans are taking action against these unethical mental health providers. Recently, four men, from both New York and Utah, filed the nation’s first lawsuit against conversion therapists under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Protection Act, which protects individuals from fraudulent or deceptive business practices. The suit is aimed at JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), located in New Jersey, whose therapist instructed a client to take off all of his clothing and hold his penis in front of a mirror.
This so-called technique, along with a variety of other disturbing practices aimed at reinforcing a client’s masculinity, is finally being scrutinized in a judicial setting. “Their lawsuit should put all conversion therapists on notice that they can be held accountable,” stated Samuel Wolfe, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center. These two articles have more information about the lawsuit: www.cnn.com/2012/11/27/us/conversion-therapy-lawsuit/index.html?eref=igoogledmn_topstories and www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55350687-78/gay-therapy-conversion-levin.html.csp
The LGBT-Affirmative Therapists Guild of Greater Kansas City comprises mental health providers who strive to be culturally competent when working with LGBT individuals and their families. The organization believes that accepting an identity as an LGBT individual can be a positive outcome of the helping process and that a client can achieve a positive identity as a LGBT person when internalized homophobia and social homophobia are decreased (http://lgbtguild.com/positions.html). The organization also asserts that Sexual Orientation Change Efforts are unethical and that a practitioner who engages in such a practice should be held accountable.
If you or someone you know was subjected to therapy geared at changing sexual orientation, the guild would like to hear about it. You can contact a representative of the guild at: firstname.lastname@example.org