Recent California Legislation Pioneers for LGBT Rights

Natalia Aldana

Members of the BDSM – those who participate in sadomasochism – leather, fetish and LGBT communities gathered in the hundreds of thousands for the annual street fair on September 23, a powerful reminder that sexual expression is a freedom.

The Folsom Street Fair is a shocking, unorthodox, outrageous, sometimes uncomfortable and eye-opening display of alternative sex subcultures. But once you look past the bizarre, theatrical and unconventional images, the conventional conception of what freedom is shines through – to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of self and others.

For 29 years, men and women, gay, straight or anywhere in between have demonstrated at the fair that freedom of sexual expression is less about the freedom to be gay or straight, and rather is more about the freedom to be whatever kind of version you want to be.

We all know we have the freedom to speak, to assemble, to pray to whatever God we want and the freedom to petition our grievances. But everyday people still suffer from violence and discrimination because of their sexual desires.

“All men are created equal,” San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk reminded us on July 4, 1976. “No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”

California became the first state on Sunday to ban the use of non-scientific therapies to “overcome” homosexuality, many of which have caused dangerous emotional harm to gay and lesbian teenagers, such as depression and suicide.

The bill, which will go into effect Jan.1, will make it illegal for mental health providers to provide minors with therapy intending to change their sexual orientation, including efforts to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

“These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” said Gov. Jerry Brown after he signed the bill.

Also known as SB-1172, this law is a monumental and inspiring step towards ensuring that sexual freedom is respected and imparted to all Americans. Proponents of the therapy have treated minors as if they have a disease, and this law is a milestone in destroying that derogatory myth.

“Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years,” the law reads.

Practices like this have caused LGBT youth to experience guilt and self-hatred for who they are, demeaning their individuality and often times causing them to commit suicide after constantly having to hear they are abnormal and defected for their desires.

According to the SB-1172, research finds that LGBT youth who experience family rejection for their identity are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, almost six times as likely to have high levels of depression, over three times as likely to abuse drugs and over three times as likely to have dangerous, unprotected sex than their LGBT counterparts who experience little to no rejection from family.

Conservative religious leaders and therapists who promote “reparative therapy” to “cure” homosexuality say this new ban is a violation of free choice.

Yet, there is one exception to the law: minors 12 – 17 years of age have the ability to choose to undergo this treatment, and so consent is still respected.

Despite this compromise, anti-gay groups are already preparing to sue over SB-1172.

In the end, California is giving a voice to youth that they can be whatever version of themselves that they choose to be, and no one can force them to believe they are abnormal because of their sexual identity and interests. This legislation honors the work of activists and pioneers like Harvey Milk, whose objective of ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and dignity is protected under law.

Upon hearing the news, I was immensely proud to reside in a state where the mental health of LGBT youth is protected, and like the Folsom Street Fair, people feel safe to express who they are, however radical their expression may seem to be.

This pioneering work of legislation has already inspired states like New Jersey, who is considering a similar law. Again, California has become the maverick of gay and sexuality rights in America, and Jan. 1 will soon be a new day of pride and joy for the LGBT community.

How amazing is that.