Mental Health and the Struggle for Gay Rights

March 30, 2015 Becky Oberg

Mental health is related to the struggle for gay rights. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days, you've heard that my state, Indiana, has passed S.B. 568, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law allowing people to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the name of religious freedom. On Saturday, I marched with about 3,000 of my new best friends to protest this, even though I am not part of that community. I marched because I understand that mental health has a connection to the struggle for gay rights. Here are three cases where the struggle for gay rights is directly relevant to mental health.

Gay Rights and Family Rejection

National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) reports:

Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity face especially serious health risks. Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

This leads to LGBT mental health concern number two: the right of medical and mental health professionals to discriminate.

Mental Healthy, Gay Rights and Discrimination

The struggle for gay rights directly affects mental health in many ways. Read about how mental health and the struggle for gay rights affects us all.The main reason people were marching on Saturday was because the new law allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals, and some already do. But it doesn't stop there. This bill also allows medical and mental health professionals to discriminate against LGBT individuals.

Imagine seeking out a state-licensed therapist to help you when you're questioning your sexuality, only to be told you're going to Hell. Imagine trying to transition gender while in treatment with someone who wants to "fix" you. Imagine a therapist or a psychiatrist who accepts your insurance refusing to treat you because of your sexual preference or gender identity. We wouldn't permit a therapist or psychiatrist to refuse to treat Jews and call it a religious belief. Why should the LGBT community be any different?

Anecdotal evidence shows that due to stigma, rejection and trauma, the LGBT community has unique mental health needs. That leads to concern number three: conversion therapy.

Gay Rights and Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy, also called reparative therapy or Sexual Orientation Change Effort (SOCE), is the attempt to change an individual's sexual preference. According to NCLR, conversion therapy not only does not work, but

In 2009, the APA [American Psychiatric Association] issued a report concluding that the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources."

The goal of reputable therapy is to help with these issues, not cause them.

Conversion therapy, itself, raises some questions about the sanity of its practitioners. NCLR reports:

According to a 2009 report of the American Psychological Association, the techniques therapists have used to try to change sexual orientation and gender identity include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; providing electric shocks; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; orgasmic reconditioning; and satiation therapy. Other techniques include trying to make patients’ behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills, using hypnosis to try to redirect desires and arousal, and other techniques—all based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBT is a defect or disorder.

No one, especially not a person in pain, deserves that kind of treatment.

Mental Health and the Acceptance of Gay Rights

Acceptance of gay rights prevents or drastically lowers the risk of the problems I've mentioned. It needs to be safe to explore one's sexual identity. Sexual identity makes up the very core of a person and should be tolerated as part of a person's identity. Homosexuality is not a disease and has not been considered such since 1973.

Wayne Besen wrote in a July 2000 boolket titled "Finally Free," published by the Human Rights Campaign:

'[R]eparative' therapists and the 'ex-gay' ministries offer false 'hope' and magic 'cures' for desperate people, then turn around and cruelly blame these folks when their bizarre 'treatments' fail... '[R]eparative therapy,' which seeks to change homosexuals into heterosexuals, was -- and still is -- rejected by nearly all respected, credible medical and mental health experts.

It's time we as a society did the same. There is no right to actively harm another's mental health and call it freedom of religion.


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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2015, March 30). Mental Health and the Struggle for Gay Rights, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Becky Oberg

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