Bill to Ban Ex-Gay Therapy on Minors Formally Announced at GA
A bill to ban the use of ex-gay therapy by licensed Virginia health professionals was formally announced today. HB 1135, sponsored by Delegate Patrick Hope, was presented by the delegate as well as two victims of the treatment, and community and faith organizers who have all asked for an end to the treatment being used on Virginia’s youth.
The bill would not affect private religious groups that use this practice outside the medical community.
Del. Hope shared reasons for banning “gay therapy” on children.
“There is no on and off switch for sexual orientation, and within the medical community, there is… alarming evidence that [sexual conversion therapy] is psychologically harmful,” said Hope.
Victoria Bragunier, public policy director for Alliance of Progressive Values, also spoke to the bill’s necessity. “In the past year, California and New Jersey have both passed laws that prevent the use of conversion therapy on children,” said Bragunier. “The principle of conversion therapy rests on the erroneous idea that being gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a form of mental illness and needs to be cured. Homosexuality is not a disease. Gay people are not sick.”
Bragunier went on to list several organizations who oppose or “strongly caution” against the use of sex therapy. Among those listed are the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Rev. Robert Coats went through voluntary conversion therapy for three years in the early 1980s. After expressing his concern about not “magically becoming straight” to the facilitators of the program, Rev. Coats recalls being told, “no one really ever becomes straight, you just learn how not to act on your innate feelings and emotions.”
Rev. Coats left the program and eventually accepted his sexuality at 37-years-old, 15 years after his ex-gay therapy treatments began. He went on to say the psychological damage done to him was devastating, and to force such treatment on a child is wrong.
“I am honored to stand here and support this bill, because it is a bill of justice,” said Rev. Coats. “It gives a voice to people who cannot speak for themselves.”
Apryl Prentiss, an English professor at a local college and a contributor to GayRVA, also shared her experience with voluntary ex-gay therapy. A dedicated Christian, Prentiss explains that she grew up with the notion that Christianity and homosexuality could not coexist.
“Homosexuality was the sin to trump all sins, and was spoken about with such disdain and contempt that I was filled with so much shame to realize it existed within me,” said Prentiss, who underwent sex therapy in her early 20s.
Prentiss was in the program, trying to change her sexual orientation, for four years. “The basic premise that who I was wrong and the pressure to change it virtually ‘weaponized’ my own sexuality against me,” said Prentiss. She went on to explain the true danger was the entire “ex-gay process,” during which she was told that who and what she was, on the most basic level, was wrong.
Prentiss eventually left therapy after it proved ineffective. In the years following, Prentiss said she experienced immense depression and thoughts of suicide. After a decade of working toward self-acceptance, Prentiss married and has been with her wife for seven years.
“This bill is aimed at protecting those who are in a much more vulnerable state than I was emotionally, physically and developmentally. Minors who are forced to undergo conversion therapy are being forced into a type of treatment that has been rejected as unsafe and unhealthy by virtually every respected mental health entity,” said Prentiss. “And they are being forced to do it at an absolutely crucial time of their lives.”
While there are several documented cases of sex therapy in Virginia, finding hard data is difficult. “There’s no registry out there where we can see [which medical professionals] provide a service or not,” said Bragunier. “We know it’s out there, we know there are licensed professionals that do the therapy here [in Virginia].”
Opponents of the bill believe it to be invasive and overreaching in terms of parents’ rights. “We, in this very session, could regulate tanning beds for minors,” said Del. Hope. “This is far worse… than what a tanning bed does… Just think about the psychological impact of what this therapy does. At the very minimum, we need to protect our children.”
Bills to ban ex-gay therapy are a new occurrence in state legislatures. California passed the first ban in 2012, which “prevents state-licensed mental health providers from trying to change sexual orientation,” according to MSNBC. New Jersey was quick to follow, passing a similar ban in summer 2013. According to the LA Times, the New Jersey law states, “the anti-conversion therapy bill, A-3371, declares that being ‘lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming,’ and it bans licensed therapists from providing gay-to-straight conversion therapy to children under age 18.”
Both state’s bills faced legal challenges, but the courts consistently upheld the laws.
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