Metro Weekly

Conversion Therapy Ban for Minors Dies in Virginia Senate

Va. Senate committee splits along partisan lines; fate of House bill still up in air

Members of the Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health, pictured above, split along party lines, 8-7, to defeat a bill banning conversion therapy for minors.

A bill to prohibit the practice of conversion or “reparative” therapies that seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by licensed therapists on minors died on Thursday after the Virginia Senate committee hearing the bill voted along party lines, 8-7, to pass the bill by indefinitely, killing its chance of passage. A similar bill in the House was heard by the respective subcommittee earlier in the day, but no vote was taken, leaving the bill’s fate up in the air for now but likely to be killed later, given the partisan makeup of the subcommittee. 

SB988, patroned by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth, Sussex, Franklin, Emporia), would have prohibited any form of “sexual orientation change efforts,” aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by licensed therapists. Any therapists found to be in violation of the statute would be subject to disciplinary action by the appropriate health regulatory board. However, religious leaders and counselors would still be able to offer support, guidance or other services to a person struggling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. The bill would also not prohibit any treatment, interventions, counseling or services to people wishing to transition from one gender to another, or that provide “acceptance, support or identity exploration and development” to people  wishing to understand or explore their sexual orientation or gender expression. And adults over the age of 18 would still retain the choice to engage in conversion therapies, even with licensed therapists, if they so desire. 

Similar bills have been introduced in other legislatures around the country, but all have been tabled or defeated, except in California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, which are the only three jurisdictions which ban the practice of such treatments on minors. 

Voting to pass the bill by indefinitely were Senators Steve Martin (R-Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Amelia Court House), Steve Newman (R-Forest, Bedford City, Buchanan, New Castle), Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke, Salem, Christiansburg, Austinville), Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach), Dick Black (R-Leesburg, Purcellville, Ashburn, Gainesville), Bill Carrico (R-Galax, Abingdon, Bristol, Gate City), Tom Garrett (R-Lynchburg, Appomattox, Farmville, Cumberland), and John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Franklin). 

Voting against the motion to pass the bill indefinitely were Lucas, Dick Salaw (D-Springfield, Alexandria City, Falls Church), Janet Howell (D-Reston, Tysons Corner, Arlington), Mamie Locke (D-Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth), Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax, Chantilly, Vienna), George Barker (D-Clifton, Lake Ridge, Franconia, Alexandria City), and Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomac, Northampton, Norfolk).

Given Republican control of both the Senate (21-19) and the House of Delegates (67-32-1), the bill’s chances for survival were slim to begin with, particularly given the full-throated backing of conservative groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) for reparative therapy, and support for the idea that people can make a choice to combat or not act same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. Advocates of conversion therapy often claim that people with unwanted same-sex attraction are more likely to have been abused as children, and denying them access to conversion therapy further victimizes them. They also often argue about “religious liberty” and the importance of providing a choice to engage in such therapy, framing that is typically popular among conservative lawmakers. 

Testimony was heard on a similar measure, HB1385, in the House of Delegates, patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), in a subcommittee of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions early Thursday morning, but no vote was taken. Unlike its Senate counterpart, Hope’s bill had not been tabled or passed by indefinitely as of 4 p.m.  However, its prospects also seem dark, as Republicans control that particular subcommittee by a 4-1 margin. 

House EdHealth Subcommittee
Members of the subcommittee tasked with hearing HB1385, the House version of the ban on conversion therapy for minors. From left to right: Delegates Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria), Bobby Orrock (R-Thornburg), John O’Bannon (R-Tuckahoe), Christopher Peace (R-Mechanicsville) and Richard “Dickie” Bell (R-Staunton).

In response to today’s Senate vote, Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s top LGBT rights organization, issued a statement registering its displeasure with the Senate committee members. 

“It is extremely disappointing that our lawmakers cannot come together in support of a bill that would protect Virginia’s LGBT youth,” said Executive Director James Parrish, who testified in favor of the bill. “We cannot continue to allow ouryouth 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.

“All major health organizations agree that this therapy is not only ineffective, but is also harmful,” Parrish continued, vowing that his organization would continue to push for a ban on conversion therapy for minors in future sessions. “Homosexuality is not a disease or disorder; prohibiting any health care provider from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with any person under 18 years of age is necessary to protect our youth as they come to terms with who they are.”

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