Minnesota House panel approves bill banning ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQ minors

Minnesota lawmakers are working to get a bill banning so-called “conversion therapy” for minors to the governor’s desk.

A House bill sponsored by Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, and companion legislation in the Senate would ban conversion therapy for people under 18 and vulnerable adults in Minnesota.

Conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparative therapy,” is a practice that attempts to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, which has come under fire for its negative impacts on LGBTQ youth and lack of evidence that it works.

“It preys on the fears of parents and does irreparable harm to children and young adults,” Hollins told the House Human Services Policy Committee at a hearing Wednesday. “This bill seeks to prevent children, teens and young adults from being coerced into treatments which are ineffective and lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide.”

Hollins said a ban on therapists providing conversion therapy to minors will also protect parents from being taken advantage of by “deceptive agents of the conversion therapy industry,” and that it would only affect paid services, not private religious practices.

The American Medical Association has said conversion therapy can result in “significant psychological distress,” depression, anxiety, self-blame, lowered self-esteem and sexual dysfunction.

The AMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics oppose the practice for minors due to its potential for harm.

More than 20 states already have restrictions on the practice, and cities including Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester have bans of their own.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz in July 2021 signed an executive order restricting conversion therapy in Minnesota, calling it a “Byzantine, tortuous practice.” His order restricted state health care programs and insurers from covering conversion therapy, but did not outright ban the practice.

Past efforts to ban the practice failed in a Legislature with control divided between Democrats and Republicans. DFLers now have complete control of state government, and Walz has signaled he would sign legislation banning conversion therapy for minors in Minnesota.

More than 20 people appeared to testify for and against the bill at Wednesday’s hearing, including medical professionals, activists and members of religious groups.

Mathew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect, an organization dedicated to ending conversion therapy, told the committee that there are more than 60 therapists in Minnesota currently providing conversion therapy in Minnesota, 40 of whom are licensed.

Shurka, who is gay, said he underwent conversion therapy by a licensed professional for five years at an enormous cost to his family.

“My parents spent $30,000 on my conversion therapy,” he told the committee. “I was supported through Viagra pills and during sex with women. These are things that we hear … from other survivors all the time when children are being misled by so-called professionals who hide behind their licensure.”

Nate Oyloe with Agape First Ministries, a group that “equips churches and ministry leaders to minister to those struggling with their sexual and gender identity,” shared his personal experience with conversion therapy.

“I chose to explore my options with the help of qualified mental health professionals, and pastoral caregivers. I was not forced. I was not coerced. I was not abused,” Oyloe said. “I was honored and loved, and that I was given the power of choice and the dignity to think for myself.”

The House Human Services Policy Committee voted 7-5 on party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against, to pass the bill to the Health Finance Committee.

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