Will this be the year that ex-gay therapy on minors gets banned in Virginia?
With bills in the House and Senate, advocates, legislators and survivors gathered at the General Assembly building in Richmond today to decry the practice of ex-gay therapy and approach a long passed-over topic with new hope.
The practice, which aims to change a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity through controversial psychological means, was called “dangerous” by Delegate Patrick Hope (D-43), the sponsor of HB 427. The senate versions of the bill are SB 262 and SB 267.
Hope, who has supported similar legislation for three years in a row, said conversion therapy stems from the false idea that “LGTBQ people, particularly children, are broken and some how need to be fixed.”
“There’s not an on/off switch [for sexuality],” he said.
Senator Scott Surovell (D-44), who has championed pro-LGBTQ bills in the past, joined Hope in submitting a Senate version of a bill which also aims to ban the practice on youth.
“[Conversion therapy] is akin to bleeding people to cure pneumonia,” Surovell said, stressing the “so called” therapy can actually cause short and long term harm to the patient. ”There’s a lot of antiquated medical practices from before we used science as the foundation for medical treatment. To me, this is exactly what this is.”
Surovell said the bills being discussed dealt only with using the treatment on children, and it would strip the license of any doctor who claimed to practice such a treatment.
He also admitted it was a rare time in which the government needed to step inside the relationship between child and parent.
“You have the right to raise your child as you see fit, but they don’t have the right to abuse their children or hurt their children as they see fit,” he said. “Children don’t have the ability to say ‘no,’ parents make that decision for them. And when parents are causing harm to their children, that’s when the government has the responsibility to step in and do something about it.”
Survivors of ex-gay therapy were also present for today’s event.
Apryl Prentiss (pictured below), the Deputy Public Policy Director for the Alliance for a Progressive Virginia (APV), spoke some about how the treatment she went through still haunts her today.
“I consider myself fortunate to have survived and to be able to stand up and advocate against a practice that has caused great personal harm to me and other survivors like me,” she said. “These harmful practices use rejection, shame, and physiological abuse to force children to try and change who they are… these effects are dangerous as they can lead to depression, reduced self esteem and suicide for youth who are already at risk”
Prentiss has told her ex-gay therapy story in great detail to GayRVA before:
I was called everything from a heretic to a pervert to an abomination. I was told by a family member that he still loved me “but only as the church loves the sinner and nothing more.” People wept and begged me to reconsider, confess my sin, and return to a life of wholeness in Christ rather than living a life full of debauchery and disgust.
Mathew Shurka (pictured below), another ex-gay therapy survivor who now travels the country advocating against the practice with his organization Born Perfect, also spoke at today’s event. He was flown in by APV to share his story which involved five years of treatment which included “masturbation therapy” and doses of viagra to help stimulate him while looking at pictures of women.
“I was not allowed to visit my mother or two sisters for three years as a way of not picking up feminine behaviors and I could embrace my masculine side,” he said. “This is something I was told by a doctor.
Shurka spoke at the GA last year and dove into more detail about his treatment with help from his sister and mother who also spoke out against the process. Read more of that story here.
“Minors who love their parents and trust their parents are being brought to doctors, licensed by states, saying they can cure them of homosexuality,” Shurka said. “Children go into this, like myself, and give it their best to actually cured something so they can be loved by their family.”
While all those present had hope for the passage of these bills this year, Del. Hope said it was something he’d return to until it reached the Governor’s desk.
“Every year you see hearts and minds changing,” Hope said. “This is the biggest hoax on the american people. This is snake oil. Conversation therapy can’t work, it’s not based on any science what so ever.”
The argument that ex-gay therapy is a kind of consumer fraud is something other sates, like New Jersey, have used to pass legislation banning the practice, but the bills discussed today didn’t include those concerns. This fraud angle is something Hope suggested the Attorney General’s office could look into and get behind, and AVP President Scott Price said fraud language might be included in future versions depending on the AG’s interest.
Other senator’s who have co-signed onto this legislation include Favola (who was in attendance for today’s event), McEachin, Dance, Lucas, and Ebbin.
Conversion therapy on youth is currently banned in California, New Jersey, Illinois and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia.
GayRVA will follow these bills as they advance through the session, so stay tuned.
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