‘Alarming Overreach’: New HHS Report Attacks SOGI Change Efforts
On March 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released an extensive report describing counseling or therapy designed to help those with unwanted same-sex attractions or gender confusion overcome these feelings as “harmful.” Mental health and policy experts are decrying the report, pointing to how it distorts data and ignores individuals who have successfully left unwanted homosexual and transgender lifestyles voluntarily with the help of this kind of therapy, as well as those currently seeking the therapy.
Opponents of sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI) change efforts — which could encompass talk therapy, counseling, reparative therapy, reintegrative therapy, or any other type of therapy designed to help people who have unwanted same-sex attractions or gender confusion — describe it with a negative connotation as “conversion therapy,” often calling it “pseudoscience.” However, dozens of individuals have testified to how SOGI change efforts have transformed their lives, leading them to happily walk away from homosexual and transgender lifestyles.
Over the last decade, SOGI change efforts have become so intensely controversial that 25 states (plus the District of Columbia) and 100 municipalities have banned the practice for minors. Despite this and the widespread condemnation of SOGI change efforts among powerful professional organizations and mainstream media outlets, SAMHSA felt the need to release a 111-page report entitled “Moving Beyond Change Efforts: Evidence and Action to Support and Affirm LGBTQI+ Youth.” The executive summary of the report plainly states that “[a]n overarching and guiding conclusion of this new report is that SOGI change efforts in children and adolescents are harmful and should never be provided.”
Policy experts like Concerned Women for America’s Doreen Denny were quick to condemn the report on a number of levels.
“HHS’s biased report seeks to imprison vulnerable youth in the deception of a destructive gender and sexual ideology calling it ‘normal and healthy,’” she told The Washington Stand. “It’s an insidious promotion of political activism using federal taxpayer-funded institutions as the foil. It condones radical treatments including sex-change drugs sand surgeries that multiply risks to mental and physical health, not help realign and restore health. Nothing in this report challenges the underlying dogma of trans activism or considers the documented evidence of youth being harmed by social and medical interventions trapping them in its deception. European countries are doing a U-turn while U.S. ideologues rush to expand the industry.”
Mental health experts also expressed grave concerns about the report. Dr. Jennifer Bauwens, director of the Center for Family Studies at Family Research Council, formerly worked as a clinician providing trauma-focused treatment to children. In an interview with The Washington Stand, she observed that the report fits in line with the Biden administration’s goal of normalizing the practice of irreversible hormone treatments and surgeries for gender confused minors, as well as expanding funding for it.
“We were given a clue when [Assistant Secretary of Health] Rachel Levine [recently] said … something to the effect of ‘We’re going to make transgender procedures on minors acceptable.’ Given the state movements that we’re seeing to protect children, it’s kind of a curious statement. How are you going to do that when the tide is clearly turning in the public polls, etc.? So here we have this document released on the ‘Transgender Day of Visibility.’ And the important thing with this document is it’s ultimately a roadmap onto more funding and more grants and more opportunities to release more bad research.”
The SAMHSA report’s executive summary goes on to cite seven different studies which they claim have “linked SOGI change efforts to significant harms, such as increased risk of suicidality and suicide attempts, as well as other negative outcomes including severe psychological distress and depression.”
But Bauwens pointed to how the data in these studies has been distorted.
“There’s absolutely no acknowledgment of the findings that are contrary,” she told TWS. “Paul Sullins released an analysis [in 2022] of one of the major studies [which supposedly found that] if you’re [involved in] sexual orientation change efforts [SOCE], that you are more likely to be suicidal. Sullins looked at the data and found that if you control for suicidal thoughts that happened before any involvement in SOCE efforts, then actually there is no correlation between change efforts and suicidality. In fact, his study showed that those who were involved in SOCE and had suicidal thoughts before engaging in that treatment had reduced suicidality [as a result]. The sad thing is that with this kind of report, it paints the wrong picture, and it takes off the table things that are actually helping people reduce their negative mental distress. We clearly see the research is biased in how they’re analyzing data and how they’re reporting the data.”
Bauwens went on to emphasize additional shortcomings in the SAMHSA report’s press release, which stated that it “provides a comprehensive overview of the scientific research and consensus that LGBTQI+ youth are resilient and can thrive when they are supported and affirmed, but that pervasive discrimination, rejection, and bullying of LGBTQI+ youth has led to a nationwide mental health crisis.”
“That is a profound logical leap,” Bauwens underscored. “That is an example of terrible research that is not evidence-based. Of course there is a mental health crisis in LGBTQI-identified youth. But what about the rest of the youth that don’t identify as LGBTQI that are experiencing mental health issues? What about accounting for COVID, the attachment disorders that we’re seeing amongst youth, broken families, the school injection of sexual material, we could go on and on. But here they’ve isolated this mental health crisis as ‘discrimination.’ Really?”
She also conveyed concern about the heightened risk of missing warning signs of sexual abuse in today’s school climate.
“It used to be [commonplace] that people in the mental health field would provide education to educators about what signs to look for if somebody’s been abused,” Bauwens explained. “A child reporting sexual ideas at a young age would be a red flag that there’s something going on in the home or friend circle that’s potentially dangerous. And now, instead of teachers serving in that role of looking for these red flags, it’s hard to know who’s who because they are the ones introducing this sexual material in some cases. And all these young people are so sexualized that it’s hard to know what’s going on. And that too should be considered an intervention that has been imposed on a generation, and yet there’s no accounting for that in this mental health crisis.”
Elizabeth Woning is the co-founder of the Changed Movement, an advocacy organization for those who choose to move away from LGBT identities. She expressed further alarm over the HHS report.
“Identity develops throughout childhood, and adopting a sexual identity is highly subjective,” she told The Washington Stand. “We feel youth should have opportunities to explore and question their feelings. Policies like this are an alarming overreach against free speech and freedom of conscience with coercive effects.”
Woning continued, “The unquestioned embrace of LGBT identity among youth encourages risky sexual behaviors with harmful outcomes and dismisses sexual abuse. According to the CDC, LGBT-identifying youth today have higher pregnancy rates, STIs, and suicidality than their peers. Many of us at Changed Movement associate our adoption of LGBT identity with childhood sexualization, abuse, or trauma. We experienced diminishment and even resolution of same-sex feelings or gender incongruence as we gained emotional healing.”
“Although minority stress theory is a preferred understanding of LGBT distress, it does not account for the current decline in LGBT well-being as society has become increasingly accepting of sexual minorities,” Woning concluded. “In light of this, the federal government should recognize the ethical implications of discouraging and even disallowing ‘change.’”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.