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Conversion therapy bill meets resistance in House committee



Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A bill that would ban gay conversion therapy for minors received a frosty welcome from a House committee Tuesday when members questioned whether it seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and would prohibit counseling for children who may want to change or suppress their sexuality.

The legislation bars licensed counselors from using treatments that try to change a minor’s sexual orientation or reduce romantic attractions toward people of the same gender. The bill’s supporters say conversion therapy can increase rates of depression, suicide and substance abuse among youth. The American Psychological Association and other health organizations have discredited the effectiveness of the practice.

The bill faced pushback from some who said it would affect the therapist-patient relationship at a hearing in the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

“Should the state take a stand on the morality of homosexuality? Many people believe it to be immoral,” said Brian Abasciano, a pastor from Hampton. “It is one thing to allow people to do it and have homosexual marriage; it’s another to craft legislation that is aimed at approving of it specifically.”

The legislation already passed the Republican-led Senate in a 15-8 vote. Six Republicans joined all nine Democrats to back the bill. The House approved a similar bill last year, but it’s not clear whether this one will fail.

No one who testified could point to any licensed providers in the state currently practicing conversion therapy, although some said out-of-state counselors are advertising the service to residents who are minors over the internet.

Conversion therapy techniques have in the past included administering electric shocks, inducing nausea while showing a patient homoerotic images or using shame to induce an aversion to same-sex attractions, according to the American Psychological Association.

Janson Wu, executive director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, told the committee the bill’s passage is an important signal for gay, lesbian and transgender minors.

“It sends a strong message to young people that there is no reason for them to change who they are,” he said. “That is a message that they rarely hear.”

The bill doesn’t apply to unlicensed therapists and would include religious protections. One committee member, however, raised concern with a section that bans licensed therapists from efforts to reduce sexual or romantic attractions.

“Every one of my senior staff members has and continues to do this when an under-18 person asks for help to work through these things, when they say, ‘Would you help me stop having that attraction towards that person of my gender,’ ” said Rep. Mark Pearson, a Hampstead Republican who co-founded New Creation Healing Center. “Would you believe that I am grateful that my staff does this because if my staff didn’t do this, I know some back-alley people and their techniques are not good.”

The committee will work on the bill Wednesday before it goes to the House floor at a later date.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)