By ROBERT WELLER
.c The Associated Press
DENVER (AP) -- The American Psychiatric Association's board voted unanimously Friday to reject therapy aimed solely at turning gays into heterosexuals, saying it can cause depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.
"All the evidence would indicate this is the way people are born. We treat disease, not the way people are," said Dr. Nada Stotland, head of the association's joint committee on public affairs.
"The very existence of therapy that is supposed to change people's sexuality, even for people who don't take it, is harmful because it implies that they have a disease," said Stotland, of Rush Medical College in Chicago. "There is evidence that the belief itself can trigger depression and anxiety."
The American Psychological Association made a similar decision last year.
Gay activists applauded the decision. Proponents of converting gays said the decision could deny patients the treatment they want.
Some fundamentalist Christian religious groups attempt to persuade homosexuals to undergo treatment, sometimes called "reparative therapy," to convert to heterosexuality.
Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition began a national advertising campaign just before the killing of Matthew Shepard urging gays to convert.
Shepard, a 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student, died Oct. 12 after a severe beating in Laramie, Wyo. Police believe he was attacked in part because he was gay.
Asked whether efforts to convert gays could result in attacks like the killing of Shepard, Stotland said spreading the idea that homosexuality is a disease or evil could make people "feel less inhibited about beating up gays, or not giving them jobs."
Stotland said during the psychiatric group's quarterly meeting that there is no evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.
John Paulk, a specialist on homosexuality and gender for the Colorado Springs- based Focus on the Family, disagreed. He said there is no evidence that homosexuality is "biologically predetermined."
"This makes it more difficult for clients who want to be treated for unwanted homosexuality," Paulk said. "Furthermore no scientific study has given conclusive evidence that homosexuality cannot be successfully treated."
David Smith, chief strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, said, "We applaud ... the condemnation of this thoroughly discredited practice that causes great harm to people who are gay but not yet comfortable with their sexual orientation."