DAVID ROSMAN: Conversion therapy bill doesn't go far enough

Wednesday , March 14, 2018 - 7:56 AM

David Rosman

The LGBTQ community is quite familiar with conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy,” as is State Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Creve Coeur. Her bill HB2141 is an attempt to protect our children from such therapy by licensed providers. Unfortunately, it does not go far enough.

The proposed law defines conversion therapy as “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.” The proposed legislation focuses on the practice on minors.

The Columbia Missourian reported that conversion therapy has been declared to be unethical by the American Psychological Association, or APA. In 2009, the APA declared that “direct risks of conversion therapy include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, and distinct rise in suicidality.” More than a dozen other professional medical and psychological organizations have followed suit.

The proposed changes in the law would affect Title XXII, Section 337.010, et al, covering the licensure of psychiatrists, behavior analysts, professional counselors, social workers, and marital and family therapists, preventing them from practicing conversion therapy on minors. But not all “therapists” need to be licensed by the state, so this proposed law would have some gaping holes.

The most prevalent would be those persons in our religious communities who practice counseling without being licensed by the state. This would include priests, ministers, rabbis, imams and lay leaders of a church, synagogue, temple or mosque.

Once again, religion would get a free pass.

In 2015, The Atlantic reported that the majority of conversion therapy sessions have been initiated by the Christian right. They reported the case of Julie Rogers who came out as a lesbian in high school. Her conservative Christian parents enrolled her in a ministry that practiced conversion therapy. “After a decade of compliance and ‘therapy,‘ neither Rodger’s sexual orientation nor those of her fellow group members budged.” The experience left Rogers feeling ashamed and less than a person.

Others have gone to the extreme and committed suicide.

But it is not just Christian groups. Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing — or JONAH, and formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality — has been practicing conversion therapy since its inception in 1999.

Because the Missouri does not license ministers, rabbis, priests, imams and other religious leaders, they are not subject to the prohibitions of this proposed law. Because the law does not cover religious leaders, they may continue to practice conversion therapy on minors without fear of loss of license. Because there is no penalty, financial or otherwise, in the proposed law for those not licensed who are practicing conversion therapies on minors, the practice will continue.

A 2018 Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law study suggests that some 57,000 LGBTQ children between the ages of 13 and 17 will receive conversion therapy from religious leaders nation-wide. This is in addition of the 20,000 children who received conversion therapy from licensed therapists. This does not include the almost 700,000 adults who received such therapy, with about one-half receiving conversion therapy as adolescents.

Laws prohibiting conversion therapy are now found in seven states and have been challenged on First Amendment grounds of the Free Exercise Clause. Organizations as the Liberty Counsel, labeled as an anti-LGBTQ organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have filed court challenges to these laws.

It is not just Christian organizations. In 2013, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) filed suit in New Jersey claiming that a state law outlawing conversion therapy by licensed providers violated their First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. The court found in New Jersey’s favor, but that did not stop the Liberty Counsel.

In 2016, the challenge to the law in New Jersey was declined to be heard by the Supreme Court for a third time. Southern Poverty Law Center said of the case:

“(Licensed) conversion therapy providers can’t use their religious beliefs as cover to sell ineffective, potentially harmful therapeutic services. States have a substantial interest in protecting LGBT youth from quackery, and parents don’t have the right to subject their children to it.”

As of Sunday, HB 2141 is stuck in the system with no action since Jan. 18. It is important that this bill, even in its current form, be passed to protect the youth of the LGBTQ community. It needs to be assigned to a committee and proper hearings need to be heard. It is time that our legislators tackle the issues of the day and protect our youth regardless of their sexual orientation.

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer and professional speaker. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com.

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