Last week, I wrote about California’s attempt to ban gay conversion therapy. A few of my friends were shocked – as I was – to learn that California would be the first state to ban such treatment. They wondered what it would be like to be a gay teen forced into conversion therapy by his or her parents and if there was any recourse for the teen. This got me to thinking, and I decided to do a little research. This is how I discovered the youth rights movement.
The youth rights movement in the United States dates back as far as the 1930s, but the movement has really gained momentum with the advancement of the Internet. The National Youth Rights Association (NYRA), one of the largest youth rights groups in the country, is devoted to “challenging age discrimination against young people, both in law and in attitudes and supporting the basic freedoms afforded to young Americans in the Bill of Rights.” The group works to fight ageism and focuses on issues such as curfews, voting age, and student rights as well as emancipation assistance.
I have to admit, these were not issues I had ever thought seriously about. I had never even considered whether or not a youth rights movement existed or what its purpose could be. It’s normal for parents and children to have conflicting values, but in some cases the consequences can be serious. A gay teen living with ultra-conservative religious parents who will not accept their child’s sexuality is one example, and is just one of many situations which could result in an unlivable and even dangerous situation for a minor.
The Adult Privilege Checklist
Feminist parenting blogger Anji published the Adult Privilege Checklist based on other privilege checklists – most notably the Male Privilege and White Privilege Checklists. Unlike other lists, this checklist is written from the perspective of the child which I think makes it more powerful. The list outlines some important points, such as “If I am routinely yelled at, criticized, and belittled in my own home, this might not generally be recognised as abusive behaviour” (which is followed up with “If I am angry or upset, this is often not taken seriously and I am often condescended and patronised”). Some of the points listed on the Adult Privilege Checklist depend on context. The point, “My belongings can be taken from me (often by my adult caregiver) and this is not viewed as theft” could be talking about unfair theft or simple discipline, depending on the situation.
One point in particular really stood out to me: “I am usually not given a choice about which religion to follow.” I could relate a bit to this point because I was raised Catholic and, as I got older, was not thrilled about it. At fifteen, I begrudgingly made my Confirmation even though I had tried to express that I did not want to become an adult member of the Church (which is the sole purpose of the sacrament). However, this had little impact on my life. My family did not attend Mass regularly, and the whole ordeal was equivalent to sitting through a boring lecture. For some children, on the other hand, being forced to practice his or her parents’ religion can mean giving up everything.
The bill in California bans licensed therapists from providing gay conversion treatment, but it does not apply to religious organizations. This means that gay minors can still be subjected to “gay cure” therapy provided by religious organizations and are profoundly affected by their experiences. Many people who have been forced to undergo conversion therapy suffer from an identity crisis and depression after realizing that their sexual orientation cannot be changed. The amount of pain caused by gay conversion therapy can last a lifetime.
Is There a Solution?
Can anything be done to help these children? The most obvious answer is for the teens to attempt to become emancipated from their parents, but it is not always so simple. Emancipation laws vary state by state, but generally a minor must prove that it is in everyone’s best interest – this means that the teen must prove that his or her parents are unfit and, in many cases, that physical abuse has taken place. Also, the teen must demonstrate that he or she has a plan for living independently. In some states, this means that they must already have everything – an apartment, job, etc. – in order. It does not seem likely that many LGBT teens could be granted emancipation based on this clash of values.
It’s not clear whether or not the youth rights movement can help these teens because it’s hard to tell how much headway the movement can make on some of the main issues. Because these issues are so complex, it is hard to make laws that address them. It is important to protect these teens from being subjected to conversion therapy or other systematic emotional abuse inflicted upon them by religious organizations at the hands of their parents, but at this point, there are no easy solutions as to what laws could be put in place to help.