A U.S. federal agency is urging an end to so-called "conversion therapy" attempts to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, a practice usually aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) youth.
Conversion therapy, often conducted as a religious effort, has already been banned in four states and the District of Columbia, with similar bans being considered in another 12 states and by the U.S. Congress.
"No evidence supports the efficacy of such interventions to change sexual orientation or gender identity, and such interventions are potentially harmful," report the authors from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Samhsa).
Conversion therapy is based on a once accepted, but since discredited, belief that homosexuality or other gender issues are mental disorders or "illnesses" that can be cured with therapy.
"None of the existing research" supports such a premise, says the report developed by an expert panel of the American Psychological Association.
Differences in gender identity and sexual orientation are "part of the normal spectrum of human diversity," and efforts to change them through conversion therapy or other practices are ineffective, even harmful, and are not appropriate therapeutic practices, the panel said.
The extent of stress such practices can create can "put young people at risk of serious harm," it said.
"Family rejecting behaviors — including attempts to change an adolescent's sexual orientation — have been linked with health risks, including suicidal behavior and risk for HIV, during young adulthood," the expert panel said.
What is required instead is support and acceptance, most importantly from parents, it said.
"Parental behaviors and attitudes have a significant effect on the mental health and well-being of sexual and gender minority children and adolescents," the report's authors concluded.
Ending conversion therapy would be just the initial step in improving the lives of LGBT youth, the panel said, citing interpersonal, institutional and societal discrimination and bias against sexual and gender minorities it said still exists.
"When dealing with a sensitive topic such as gender identity or sexual orientation in young people, it is essential that families, educators, caregivers, and providers seek the best available information and advice," said Samhsa Acting Administrator Kana Enomoto.
The aim of the report is to provide such information as well as resources young people and their families can avail themselves of, she said.
The report echoes a call by the Obama administration in April for the end of conversion therapy, which has also been condemned by several major medical associations, including the American Psychiatric Association.