Conversion therapy bans could prevent hundreds of youth suicides over the next decade

October 31, 2022 4:20 am

Educators, counselors in Ohio say schools need more mental health resources. Photo by WEWS.

Last Monday, the Akron City Council voted to ban conversion therapy in the city, making it the eleventh city in Ohio to do so. 

The pseudoscientific practice referred to as “conversion therapy” encompasses counseling aimed at children focused on changing sexual orientation. The practice has been condemned by the American Medical Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

The Akron ordinance cited a 2019 study by the UCLA Williams Institute that found LGBT+ youth exposed to conversion therapy were twice as likely to consider and attempt suicide than those who hadn’t. Conversion therapy made worldwide news when transgender Ohio teenager Leelah Alcorn posted her suicide note on the social media site Tumblr in 2014, explaining how conversion therapy led to her death.

I still find myself surprised this is a practice that occurs in Ohio today. I’ll admit, I sometimes even think “is this a real problem or are these sorts of ordinances empty gestures?” I have been saddened to find that this problem is indeed very real.

In a survey conducted as a part of Kent State University’s LGBTQ+ Greater Akron Community Needs Assessment, 30 of 701 respondents reported they had received conversion therapy at some point. According to the UCLA Williams Institute, there are 72,000 LGBTQ+ Ohioans age 13-17. 

If Ohio rates of conversion therapy reflect the responses in this survey, that means nearly 3,000 Ohio teenager have been exposed to conversion therapy. The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found 18% of LGBTQ teens made a suicide attempt in the past year. 

If teens exposed to conversion therapy have roughly double the suicide attempt rate of the general population, this means over 1,000 LGBTQ teens in Ohio who have been exposed to conversion therapy attempt suicide every year. If the death rate of suicide attempts reflects the national average, this means 43 LGBTQ teens in Ohio who are exposed to conversion therapy die of suicide every year.

If conversion therapy doubles the suicide attempt rate for youth, this means banning the practice statewide could save over 200 youth lives from suicide in Ohio over the next decade.

Bans on conversion therapy have been enacted so far in the cities of Akron, Athens, Kent, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Columbus, Dayton, Lakewood, Reynoldsburg, and Toledo. The largest cities without bans right now are Parma, Canton, Lorain, Hamilton, and Youngstown, each with total populations over 60,000 people.

City-level bans only go so far, though. Bans can be ducked by people providing conversion therapy across jurisdictional lines only a short drive away, making patchwork municipal bans less effective than a statewide ban. 21 states and the District of Columbia have now enacted statewide bans on conversion therapy, mainly concentrated in the northeast and west. This includes moderate political states like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia. 

The only state with a conversion therapy ban in the Midwest currently is Illinois, though it is the region of the country most blanketed with city-level bans. If state lawmakers want to reduce teen suicides in Ohio, they have a strong option in front of them.



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Rob Moore
Rob Moore

Rob Moore is the principal for Scioto Analysis, a public policy analysis firm based in Columbus. Moore has worked as an analyst in the public and nonprofit sectors and has analyzed diverse issue areas such as economic development, environment, education, and public health. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Denison University.