Conversion Therapy Ban Bill Passed By Mass. House & Senate, Awaits Gov. Baker’s Signature

Conversion Therapy BanPhoto: Jana Sabeth Schultz / Unsplash

BOSTON—Recently, the Massachusetts House and Senate both passed a Conversion Therapy Ban bill, which would outlaw the practice of conversion therapy for minors, a dangerous practice that harms LGBTQ youth, according to health professionals and activists.

“Conversion therapy causes harm to LGBT people, including young people, and it doesn’t work,” said Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research of The Fenway Institute.

Although the House and Senate bills show some discrepancies between them, Governor Charlie Baker is “inclined to support” the ban, he said via a press conference last week.

“They’re different, so I’m not going to speak to either one of them, but if a conversion therapy bill gets to my desk and we don’t see any other issues with it, it’s something we’d be inclined to support,” he said via the conference.

The bills received widespread support by both bodies in the Mass. legislature. The Senate voted unanimously to support the ban, with the exception of five abstentions. The House voted 147-8.

“ … conversion therapies are not only ineffective, but they increase depression and anxiety, as well as increase suicidality, and can create trauma symptoms in individuals who are subjected to its techniques,” said Will Halpin, LICSW, MPH, Public Health Social Worker, and Licensed Psychotherapist. “I have worked with LGBTQ clients who have sought extensive psychotherapy to specifically heal from the scars of trauma, self-hatred, shame, and desires to harm themselves by going through conversion therapy programs.”

The bill put forth in the House of Representatives by Rep. Kay Khan is “identical to the legislation that passed both the House and Senate last summer, but stalled in the final moments of the formal session before reaching Baker’s desk,” reported the Boston Globe. “It would ban state-licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy with minors and includes an exemption for religious institutions.”

The Senate bill has conditions that are more stringent.

According to the Globe’s story, “The Senate bill filed by Sen. Mark Montigny contains additional mandatory reporting language that would apply to teachers and doctors. It’s unclear if the governor has an issue with any of these provisions.”

The Network/La Red (TNLR), a survivor-led, social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in the LGBTQ+ community, linked conversion therapy to abuse.

“Abuse exists to achieve and maintain control, and reflects and perpetuates the larger violent culture, which condones and rewards oppression: an abuse of power in order to control and/or exploit groups of people,” said Cristina Dones, Manager of Community Engagement and JP Delgado Galdamez, Outreach and Education Associate at TNLR. “Conversion Therapy uses isolation and gaslighting, two tactics that many people abusers use against their partners, to oppress LGBQ/T children and young adults.”

When compounded with various intersectional identities, such as race and ethnicity, Dones and Delgado Galdamez said that conversion therapy creates additional risks.

“LGBQ/T communities and communities of color respectively lack positive representation in our society today. Conversion therapy perpetuates that narrative for LGBQ/T people and creates even smaller spaces for our communities to feel safe and validated,” said the pair. “We can make the safe assumption that LGBQ/T people of color would be further isolated and at greater emotional and physical risk than their white counterparts. We cannot ignore the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender expression and identity.”

Many ex-gay [conversion therapy] programs are often unregulated, making the practice even more dangerous, according to Youth in the Crosshairs, a report published by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

“Unlike many organizations and individuals who offer counseling and mental health treatment services, the majority of ex-gay programs market themselves as religious ministries and are therefore not governed or overseen by professional associations, licensing boards, state departments of health or other bureaucracies,” the report read. “This is particularly troublesome for ex-gay teen programs like Refuge, which may be providing services to clients against their will.”

Conversion therapy is not rooted in science and separation of church and state should apply to this ban as well, other medical professionals stated.

“Conversion Therapy should be banned as it is not an evidence-based treatment method and it is a method of torture of people of all ages to undergo,” said Jennifer Nakkai, LICSW, and Owner of AEON Counseling and Consulting. “It is particularly disturbing for young children who are forced to do this by family members without the child’s assent, not just parental consent. Also, conversion therapy is historically a religiously based and funded treatment method and the Church should stay as far away from the State as possible. The church does not employ trained and independently licensed therapists to do this ‘work.’”

Late last week, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Roselló signed an executive order banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth on the island. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico has been working on comprehensive LGBTQ Equality initiatives.

“As a father, as a scientist and as the governor for everyone in Puerto Rico, I firmly believe that the idea that there are people in our society who need treatment because of their gender identity or whom they love is not only absurd, it is harmful to so many children and young adults who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Rosselló said in a statement to the media.

And, it is past time for Massachusetts to outlaw conversion therapy too.

“Gov. Baker should show leadership and sign this bill, joining the other 15 states in our country (plus D.C.) that have already banned conversion therapy for minors,” said Halpin. “In my professional opinion, this should be an easy bill to sign, knowing that he is preventing children from being exposed to techniques that cause more harm and damage than they do help.”

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