Virginia legislator compares being gay to cancer as ex-gay therapy bill voted down in Senate subcommittee
Two bills hoping to ban conversion therapy on minors were all but killed in a Virginia Senate subcommittee today, but not before a Senator compared the practice, widely condemned by healthcare organizations around the world, to a doctor treating cancer.
“If I have a child who has cancer, there’s a chance we can cure that cancer with chemo therapy rather than watch that child suffer… it is a form of therapy, the chemo therapy, and to know it goes in remission and find out the child has cancer again, that is a parents decision to try and help the child,” said Senator Carrico (R-40) (top image). He’s the same senator who is hoping to allow county clerks to deny same-sex marriage licenses if it didn’t align with their religious beliefs.
Carrico made this comment in response to questions about a parent’s ability to chose treatment for their child, like ex-gay therapy, even if it doesn’t work or if it harms the child.
The issue of parent’s rights was among many the topics debated during today’s conversion therapy bill hearing, with both sides given a total of an hour+ for discussion – itself a rare occurrence in a subcommittee.
Public comment opened up with one witness who said he’d successfully completed ex-gay therapy and was happier because of it.
“I’ve heard abusive horror stories [about ex gay therapy] like this before, but mine wasn’t like that,” said John Linder who now helps with a local conversion therapy center. “It was a long process, but for me it helped resolve the conflict I was feeling between my sexual attractions and my faith. I found it liberating, I wasn’t trying to change from something I was to something I wasn’t, it was the opposite of that.”
Linder (pictured above) said he is now married, but later admitted during the hearing he still has same-sex attraction.
Other folks who have been through the treatment told a different story – one of isolation and suffering at the hands of people they trusted to “cure” them.
“I haven’t experienced the same outcomes as Linder experienced,” said Josh Bryan Sanders, a Virginia Beach resident and ex-gay survivor who now works with the the LGBTQ athletics group Go! Sports. “I’ve known people who decided to end their lives because they couldn’t reconcile these two parts of their identity [faith and sexuality] that they value so much. This form of therapy reinforces a real negative perspective of a persons life.”
The issue of suicide rates in relation to conversation therapy was fiercely debated during the hour+ long subcommittee meeting – itself a rare occurrence.
Shurka – left – and Sanders speaking before today’s hearing
Mathew Shurka, a New York Native who was in ex-gay therapy from the age of 16 to 21 and now advocates against the practice with #BornPerfect campaign, said it was not uncommon for folks to take their life during treatment.
“I was in camp in Charlottesville,” he said about a short stint in a conversation therapy camp called Journey to Manhood located about 50 miles outside of RVA. “Not everyone walked out alive.”
Shurka has been involved in fighting ex-gay therapy since he abandoned the treatment, and he is unafraid to share some of the darker parts of his time at camp, including “masturbation therapy” and being kept from his mother and sister for three years to avoid picking up feminine traits.
He said folks like himself enter the treatments believing they could change, hoping to please their family and/or their faith, and were emotionally destroyed when they fail.
“Every week someone is committing suicide or overdosing on drugs because they know they can’t succeed,” he said.
According to the Family Acceptance Project, a research group based out of San Francisco State University, youth put into ex-gay therapy are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their LGBTQ accepted peers. They’re also three times more likely to face drug addiction and/or contract HIV/AIDS.
“You’re ignoring the science,” Shurka said in today’s hearing.
Senator Scott Garret (R-23), the chair of the subcommittee hearing the bills, said science has a history of being wrong.
“[That's] the same science that told us the sun rotated around the Earth, that the Earth was flat,” he said.
But Sen. Scott Surovell, one of the patrons of the bill along side Senators Rosalyn R. Dance and Don McEachin, challenged Garret pointing to the huge consensus from groups like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and many more national and international medical orgs who have all come out against the practice
“That’s the reality,” he said.
A focal point of the legislation is that it would only ban the practice on minors, meaning folks over the age of 18 would be able to seek the service if they so desired. The bill would also ban the use of state funds for the practice; if an ex-gay therapy group was reported using Medicaid as payment, they could face fraud charges from the state.
“Kids don’t have a choice… I think its important that we make a statement, make it clear: you can not practice this on children and the state won’t pay for it,” Surovell said.
Dance also spoke in support of her bill, saying it would only address therapies that sought to “change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” but not include counseling for people undergoing gender transition or counseling that is supportive of different sexual orientations.
The six member committee voted 4-2 on both bills to pass on them indefinitely, with Senators Lucas and Barker being the only ‘nays.’ This doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the bill, however it does suggest the larger, Republican-dominated committee that they too should pass on it without a vote.
A House version of the bill, sponsored by Del. Hope, will be heard in the coming weeks giving a second chance to legislation banning conversion therapy on minors.
Vote to Breakdown, to bass by indefinitely, for both bills:
Carrico - Y
Barker - N
Dunnavant - Y
Lucas - N
Suetterlein - Y
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