HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers have introduced a bill banning a hotly disputed treatment that aims to turn gay teens heterosexual on the basis that being gay is an illness.
The proposed law, which was introduced in both the Senate and the House, says being gay is not a disorder. Supporters of the ban on gay-conversion therapy say it would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens from serious harm caused when parents force them into therapy to become heterosexual.
The bill would make it illegal for teachers or professional counselors to try to change someone’s sexual orientation. It would also ban advertising that promotes changing sexual orientation.
“These children, these teenagers are quite vulnerable,” Democratic Rep. Della Au Belatti said. “This is an issue because we don’t want them to be subject to further pressure and stigmatization during their formative years in school.”
Belatti, who introduced the bill in the House, said the bill is aligned with widespread opinions in the medical community that say conversion therapy is harmful to teens. Studies say teens are more likely to attempt suicide, become depressed or use drugs if they’ve been rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation.
“Really, it’s a subtle form of child abuse,” said Camaron Miyamoto, the director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Student Services at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “The violence isn’t seen on the outside, but it’s felt for a lifetime.”
The proposed bill comes after Hawaii passed a law in 2013 to legalize same-sex marriage after nearly two decades of debate. Over 1,000 signed up to testify on the law, which was opposed by those who contend marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Republican Rep. Bob McDermott, who took the state to court to challenge the same-sex marriage law, said he does not support the ban on conversion therapy and expects the bill to be contentious in the community.
Parents should be able to decide whether to send to treatment children who are unsure about their sexual orientation or have behavioral problems, McDermott said. “What if I want my kids — they’re questioning, they’re on the fence — and I want to steer them to the rich life of being a heterosexual, and as a parent, I don’t have that right?” he said.
However, teachers should be prohibited from counseling children because they’re not mental health professionals, McDermott said. Instead of passing legislation, the state Department of Education could make a rule preventing teachers from counseling minors about sexual orientation, he said.
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