Respect Equality

LGBTQ+ conversion therapy is costing the US billions

Story at a glance

  • Researchers have estimated that conversion therapy practices in the U.S. are costing the nation billions of dollars each year.
  • While the annual direct cost of conversion therapy, including health insurance reimbursements or fees to religious organizations, totals around $650 million, the indirect costs, including treatment for anxiety and depression for those who undergo conversion therapy, brings the annual total to $9.2 billion.
  • The study’s authors recommended policymakers back affirmative therapies, which would save the U.S. around $6.2 billion compared to conversion therapy.

A steady stream of research has already proven the adverse psychological impact that LGBTQ+ conversion therapy often has on the youth it is performed on, but new research has estimated the financial impact of conversion therapy, which creates an economic burden of roughly $9 billion in the U.S. each year.

Researchers in a first-of-its-kind analysis estimated that the annual direct cost of “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts,” otherwise known as conversion therapy, totals just over $650 million. That includes the cost of things like health insurance reimbursements or fees to religious organizations which perform conversion therapy.

Compounded with the indirect costs of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy practices, like treatment for anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide attempts, that total skyrockets to an estimated $9.2 billion per year, according to a study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.


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A pseudoscientific and discredited practice aiming to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, conversion therapy commonly uses techniques like electric shock, deprivation of food and water, and hypnosis. The American Medical Association says conversion practices are ineffective and based on an “unfounded misconception of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Nearly 700,000 LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S. have undergone some kind of conversion therapy, according to the Williams Institute, including 350,000 as adolescents.

Those who received conversion therapy are more at risk of reporting mental health problems like anxiety and depression and, according to another Williams Institute analysis, are more than twice as likely to consider or attempt to take their own life than LGBTQ+ individuals who were not subjected to conversion therapy.

“It is incumbent on policy makers to act to protect youths from—and stop all funding for—this unacceptable practice,” the study’s authors wrote, adding that “increasing access to affirmative therapy may promote health by empowering LGBTQ youths with skills and strategies to counteract minority stress.”

Affirmative therapy, as defined by the authors, is a form of psychotherapy validating the positive expression of a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. According to the study, affirmative therapy would save the U.S. nearly $2 billion compared to no intervention at all and roughly $6.2 billion compared to conversion therapy.

In the U.S., 20 states have laws in place which ban conversion therapy for minors, and five states have partial bans. Three states – Alabama, Georgia, and Florida – are located in a federal judicial circuit with an injunction that prevents the enforcement of bans on conversion therapy practices.


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