A new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that non-transgender LGB people who experienced conversion therapy were almost twice as likely to think about suicide and to attempt suicide compared to their peers who hadn’t experienced conversion therapy.
Using a representative sample of sexual minorities in the U.S., researchers examined whether experiencing conversion therapy is associated with suicidal ideation and attempts among non-transgender (cisgender and gender non-binary) sexual minority people, including lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and people who use other identity labels, such as queer.
Findings show 7% of LGB adults age 18-59 in the U.S. have experienced conversion therapy. The investigators also asked whether people received conversion therapy from a religious advisor, a health care provider, or both. An estimated 81% of people who have had conversion therapy received it from a religious leader, and 31% received it from a health care provider.
Conversion therapy is a discredited practice intended to change the sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression of LGBT people.
“Rather than being therapy, so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a minority stressor that reinforces stigma and conveys that being LGB is abnormal, sinful, and should be rejected,” said study senior author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “We found that people who undergo conversion therapy are at increased risk of suicide ideation and attempts. This is a devastating outcome that goes counter to the purpose of therapy.”
According to the study, LGB people who experienced adverse childhood experiences, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, were more likely to have undergone conversion therapy than those who did not experience adverse childhood experiences. Undergoing conversion therapy was related to suicidality even after controlling for the effect of adverse childhood experiences.
- Approximately 7% of LGB people in the U.S. have experienced conversion therapy: 81% received it from a religious leader and 31% received it from a health care provider. Some people received it from both religious advisors and health care providers.
- 4 out of 5 people who received conversion therapy received it from a religious leader.
- People who identified as gay or lesbian were more likely to experience conversion therapy than those who identified as bisexual or another sexual minority label (e.g., queer).
- The odds of experiencing conversion therapy were greater among people who as children lived with a parent or another adult who was depressed, mentally ill, or suicidal; lived in a household with parental intimate partner violence; or reported emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
- LGB people who experienced conversion therapy showed greater odds of having suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to LGB people who had not experienced conversion therapy:
- 92% greater odds of lifetime suicidal ideation
- 75% greater odds of planning to attempt suicide
- 88% greater odds of attempting suicide resulting in no or minor injury
Currently, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have laws banning the practice of conversion therapy on youth by licensed health care professionals. These laws do not cover religious providers.
“Leading medical and social services organizations condemn the practice of conversion therapy as ineffective and harmful,” said lead author John R. Blosnich, Assistant Professor with the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. “Outreach to the public on the harms of conversion therapy is needed, particularly in areas where the practice is commonly used.”
About the Study
The report, “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and Suicide Ideation and Attempt Among Sexual Minority Adults, United States, 2016–2018” appears in Research and Practice and is co-authored by John R. Blosnich, Ph.D., M.P.H., Emmett R. Henderson, M.S., Robert W.S. Coulter, Ph.D., M.P.H., Jeremy T. Goldbach, Ph.D., M.S.S.W, and Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D.
Research reported in this report is part of the Generations study, supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health, under award number R01HD078526. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The Generations investigators are Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., (PI, UCLA); David M. Frost, Ph.D., (University College London); Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., (UCSC); Marguerita Lightfoot, Ph.D., (UCSF); Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D. (University of Texas, Austin) and Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D., (UCLA) Co-Investigators are listed alphabetically.