Pagan Psychotherapist Celebrates Conversion Therapy Ban in California

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 1, 2012 — 15 Comments

This past Saturday California Governor Jerry Brown signed bill SB1172 into law, banning controversial “conversion therapies” for homosexuality if the patient is a minor. In a statement, Brown condemned these therapies as “quackery” that create, rather than solve, mental health issues.

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

“This bill bans nonscientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

California is the first state to ban conversion therapy (also known as “reparative therapy”) for minors despite the practice being considered harmful by several mainstream mental health organizations. The American Psychological Association said, in a report from 2009 that “efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates.”  Despite essentially every mainstream health organization, from the AMA to the American Academy of Pediatrics, criticizing these therapies, the practice endures, even for minors, thanks to the assertion in certain religious communities that homosexuality is a sinful disorder that can be treated.

However, not all religious communities feel this way, and many have bravely changed course on this issue, or have always been allies in the struggle to acknowledge homosexuality as a normal and healthy orientation. It’s no secret that modern Paganism as a movement has been largely welcoming of LGBTQ individuals, especially in the last 20 years we have been open towards creating “alternatives” to the modern rigid constructions of social contracts envisioned by conservative Christians. So it comes as no surprise that one of the key groups working towards the passage of this law, Gaylestaa LGBTQ Psychotherapy Association, features a co-president who also happens to be a Reclaiming priestess: Deborah Oak. At her recently revived blog Branches Up, Roots Down, she expressed her pride and joy at this victory.

Deborah Oak

Deborah Oak

 “I am proud. Two years ago I became a Board member for Gaylesta, the biggest and first LGBTQ psychotherapy association in the country. I came on as the chair of the new advocacy committee, and last year became Co-President. After years of activism in anarchist groups, I have learned a new way of activism, and also deepened my understanding of  leadership.  Legislative politics doesn’t have the same panache as direct action politics, but it certainly can be as powerful. Gaylesta, a volunteer association  was instrumental in getting this bill both created and passed. I’ve always believed that being a therapist was being an agent of change and my work with Gaylesta has proved to be integrative. Being an activist within my profession is satisfying. Good therapy can save lives.  Bad therapy can destroy them. Today, the world just got a little safer for LGBTQ youth.”

This is magic, the kind that creates change in the lives of thousands overnight. With communities working in chorus, and with the stroke of a pen, a form of child abuse is eliminated in California. Because Pagans are a part of this spell, this interwoven expression of change and love, we get to claim a proud part in this victory. We too get to dance in joy that an injustice to our brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgendered, will end. We get the opportunity to collective affirm their humanity, and our interconnectedness to them. Magic.

Thank you to all who have fought for this change, and thanks to Deborah Oak, who was a part of the nascent Pagan blogosphere back when we were but a handful, and who now shares this joyous news with us.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • I feel grateful for her work! Oak, well done!!

  • kenneth

    It was well past time to get rid of this medieval “therapy.” I’m glad one of our own had some hand in that!

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    What wonderful news. I’m sure the law is in for a court challenge, but this is a huge first step. Thanks to all who worked to make this happen.

  • Cat C-B

    Oh, Mazel tov, Deborah Oak! You should be proud. _I’m_ proud, to know you, and to have such leadership among us.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    As a Unitarian Universalist Pagan I’m delighted at this outcome. UUism has been on the liberation side of this since 1970 (and I was there).

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “…with the stroke of a pen, a form of child abuse is eliminated in California.”
    That is the ideal, anyway. Let us see how well policed it is and also how quickly it will spread to other states (otherwise I can envisage people state-hopping to get their child treated.)

  • Charles Cosimano

    I wonder how long it will survive in the courts. I doubt it is constitutional to ban a form of therapy merely because it is politically inconvenient.

    • Mo

      except it’s not therapy, and psychological child abuse isn’t politically inconvenient

    • Terence Clark

      This has never been an issue of political convenience. There is no evidence of the therapy’s efficacy and mounting evidence that it is harmful. In drug trials if the side effects outweigh the benefits, the trial is halted immediately. The same goes for drugs on the market. Procedures for which there is no clinical support or significant evidence of harm, such as some instances of chemotherapy, are also no longer practiced as soon as it is demonstrated that they do more harm than good. If the proponents want it treated as a genuine and valid therapy to be used in a medical scenario, it will be treated exactly as such. Politics has nothing to do with it.

    • deborah oak

      Therapy is aimed at healing. The psycho-quackery of conversion therapy has been proven to cause harm. The suicide rate of LGBTQ youth who are subjected to it is astronomical. A lot of care was taken in crafting this bill that it not be about outlawing a type of therapy, but outlawing the abuse of children. Which this kind of thing is.

      Thanks to all who have participated in helping getting this passed. I am beyond ecstatic.

      • I hope this will make it in the court case. They claim an unlimited right to free speech in therapy. If a child wanted to cut off a body part and the therapists helped him by talking him through it would that also be allowed?

  • Obsidia

    Best news I’ve heard in a long time! Thanks to everybody who has worked for this.

  • Darkcrone

    As a Pagan and the mother of a gay child. I thank you Oak from the bottom of my heart.

  • I hope that with the passage of this bill the people who have supported this form of therapy are disbarred from practicing ever again, have their licenses permanently revoked, and are forced to pay restitution to the families who have been scarred from this type of abuse.

  • owlsdaughter

    Blessings to you, dearest Oak! Many of us would have never known about this practice or the legislation, were it not for your steadfast work and championing. I am glad we could all pitch in with magic and phone calls! This is huge service for our young ones! And thank you, Jason, for putting this important step forward in the much-deserved spotlight.