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New Study Shows That Nearly Two Hundred Thousand Transgender People in the U.S. Have Been Exposed to Conversion Therapy

A new study published in The American Journal of Public Health by researchers at The Fenway Institute estimated the prevalence of exposure to gender identity conversion therapy, attempts to change a person’s gender identity from transgender to cisgender. Study authors include Fenway Institute researchers Dana King, ALM, Sari L. Reisner, ScD, and Alex S. Keuroghlian, MD, MPH.

Using a database of over 27,000 transgender people in the U.S., the researchers found that 13.5% of transgender people had a professional (such as a psychologist, counselor, or religious advisor) try to change their gender identity to cisgender at some point in their lives. This amounts to an estimated 187,923 people in the United States. The authors also estimated the percentage who received conversion therapy in each U.S. state, ranging from 9.4% in South Carolina to 25.0% in Wyoming.

The authors then examined the percentage of people exposed to gender identity conversion therapy more recently, in the time period from 2010 to 2015 when the data was collected. They found that 5% of transgender people nationally experienced conversion therapy during that time period. Transgender people in every U.S. state reported exposure during that recent time frame, with prevalence ranging from 1.2% in Alaska to 16.3% in South Dakota.

These results are alarming, as most major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, have labelled gender identity conversion therapy unethical and dangerous. Dr. Jack Turban, lead author of the study explains, “Our results suggest that conversion therapy for transgender people has occurred in every U.S. state as recently as the time period from 2010 to 2015. Given that this practice is associated with considerable adverse mental health outcomes, these findings warrant significant public health concern.”

These findings also have significant implications for legislative initiatives in the U.S., as several state legislative bodies consider whether to outlaw gender identity conversion therapy. Dr. Keuroghlian, senior author of the study and psychiatrist at The Fenway Institute, explains, “These results are alarming, as gender identity conversion efforts have significant adverse health consequences. Many U.S. states have not yet banned conversion efforts, in some cases due to claims that these conversion efforts do not occur in a particular state.”

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