Metro Weekly

Conversion Therapy Ban Fails in Va. House

Subcommittee tables measure prohibiting "sexual orientation change efforts" on minors

Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington
Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Wednesday dealt the final blow to hopes for a bill that would have prohibited the practice of so-called conversion or “reparative” therapy on minors by licensed therapists.

HB1385, patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), would have prohibited licensed therapists from engaging in efforts designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, mirroring successful efforts to ban such practices in California, New Jersey, and, most recently, the District of Columbia.

Had Hope’s bill passed, a licensed therapist found guilty of engaging in “sexual orientation change efforts” with clients under the age of 18 would have been subject to disciplinary action. Hope’s bill would not have prohibited ministers, counselors or other professionals from talking about a client’s feelings regarding sexual orientation or gender identity, nor would it have prevented them from providing emotional or other forms of support to individuals struggling with their sexual orientation or gender dysphoria. Adults who wished to engage in “change efforts,” as the bill labels conversion therapy, would still be free to do so without interference from the state. 

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth
Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth

Hope’s bill was assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions, usually a maneuver used to kill bills that House leadership — in this case, Republicans, led by Speaker Bill Howell (R-Fredericksburg, Stafford, Aquia Harbor) — sees as unfavorable. The particular subcommittee where the bill was heard was stacked 4-1 in favor of Republicans, making its chance of passage highly unlikely. The subcommittee voted on Wednesday, Jan. 28, to table the measure by a voice vote. A similar measure, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth, Sussex, Franklin, Emporia) was defeated in committee last Thursday, Jan. 22, by an 8-7 vote in the closely divided — and more LGBT-friendly, at least when compared to the House of Delegates — Senate. 

Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s top LGBT rights organization, again registered its displeasure with the committee for rejecting the bill.

“It is extremely disappointing that our lawmakers cannot come together in support of a bill that would protect Virginia’s LGBT youth,” James Parrish, Equality Virginia’s executive director, said in a statement. “We cannot continue to allow our youth to be put through this so-called ‘treatment’ that can cause depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior. At best, allowing this harmful treatment on our youth is irresponsible, and at worse, it could contribute to the unthinkable.” 

Apryl Prentiss, deputy policy director for the Alliance for Progressive Values, which also supported Hope’s bill, said the organization was “disappointed that a bill that could protect at-risk children was voted down along party lines. Prentiss, who herself was subjected to conversion therapy aimed at changing her sexual orientation, said that the Alliance for Progressive Values would work with Hope and other allies to bring the bill back during next year’s legislative session. 

“It became obvious to us with the objections raised in the Senate hearing and with some of the statements made by those who support this discredited and dangerous ‘therapy’ that there is much education to be done around the issue,” Prentiss said. “People do not seem to understand the true depth of how harmful the therapy is and why this is not a free speech, parental rights, or religious freedom issue. It is, rather, a safety and emotional and mental well-being issue for the children being forced to undergo it.”
Even in defeat, Hope expressed optimism that the tide would eventually turn in favor of protecting LGBT youth. 
“While I’m disappointed in the outcome, I’m not at all deterred,” Hope said in a statement. “The hearts and minds of Virginians all over this commonwealth are changing everyday on the issue of equality. Discrimination is never to be tolerated and we must be vigilant in our strongly-held beliefs, knowing that next year we will prevail.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include remarks from Del. Patrick Hope. 

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