State-by-state battle waged over ‘conversion therapy’ bans

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the  National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the  National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

NEW YORK — There have been several setbacks this year for a state-by-state campaign to ban so-called conversion therapy for gay, lesbian and transgender youth. But the White House is now officially an ally, and activists are hopeful of long-term success as they make a case that such treatments can have devastating consequences.

Groups advocating the bans were elated on Wednesday when President Barack Obama conveyed his support for measures banning psychiatric therapy treatments aimed at changing minors’ sexual orientation. Just hours earlier, a Colorado Senate committee defeated a proposed ban bill there.

“I am hesitant to use the heavy hand of government to take away the dignity of choice in cases where individuals want this therapy,” said state Sen. Owen Hill, one of three Republicans who outvoted two Democrats on the committee to block the bill after it had advanced out of the Democratic-controlled House.

According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is a leader of the multi-state campaign, Colorado is one of 18 states where bans were being considered this year. Bans were enacted in previous years in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., but at this stage it’s possible only a handful of other states – perhaps Oregon and Illinois – might join them this year.

With a legislative deadline approaching in Nevada, a bill there appears in jeopardy. In Iowa, a similar measure already has missed a key deadline and in any case was viewed as a long shot in the Republican-controlled House. In New York, the GOP-run Senate has yet to signal enthusiasm for a ban that advanced through the House last year.

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However, Samantha Ames, coordinator of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Born Perfect campaign, said she and her colleagues are heartened by increasing public awareness of the issue, even in states where the proposed measures fail.

“Most people didn’t know what conversion therapy was,” Ames said. “We are going to put this industry out of business, and the way we do that is through public education and empowerment of the survivors who’ve been most deeply affected.”

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