Metro Weekly

California considering bill to declare conversion therapy a “fraudulent practice”

Anti-LGBTQ organizations claim the bill will infringe on their free speech rights

Assemblymember Evan Low – Photo: Facebook.

A bill that would designate conversion therapy a “fraudulent practice” is moving through the California state legislature, clearing the first of several hurdles earlier this week.

Assembly Bill 2943, sponsored by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), passed the Assembly Committee On Privacy and Consumer Protection on a bipartisan vote of 8-2.

If conversion therapy is considered a form of consumer fraud, then anyone who practices it is promising a product (change in sexual orientation or gender identity) that they cannot deliver.

That means that state regulatory bodies can then step in to effectively shut down the therapy by lodging complaints, fines, or taking other actions to prevent licensed therapists or counselors from carrying out the practices utilized in conversion therapy.

California already outlaws the practice of conversion therapy on minors, as do several other states and jurisdictions. But no state currently bans the practice on adults who are old enough to consent to which practices or therapies they subject themselves.

But proponents of the bill cite a 2009 report from the American Psychological Association, which found that conversion therapy “poses critical health risks” and contributes to anti-LGBTQ stigma by characterizing homosexuality as a mental illness.

The practices involved in conversion therapy have also been discredited by several major medical and mental health organizations. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Medical Association all oppose the practice, saying it is not based on scientific evidence and can be detrimental to mental health.

“There is nothing wrong with who I am or who any of my brothers and sisters are in the LGBT community,” Low said in a statement. “It’s time to treat everyone with the human dignity that we all deserve, while celebrating our identities.”

Several anti-LGBTQ groups, including Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, the American College of Pediatricians, and the Pacific Justice Institute, as well as two pro-conversion-therapy groups, have begun a campaign trying to marshal voters against the bill by declaring it is “anti-Christian” or constitutes a form of government censorship of free speech, even alleging it may be unconstitutional. Some even allege that therapists who agree to see patients who are struggling with their sexual orientation and gender identity may even be prosecuted if the bill becomes law.

Matt Sharp, a lawyer for ADF, appeared on ABC 7 News in San Francisco and claimed that the bill discriminates against people who disagree with homosexuality.

“Going after speech, of churches, religious organizations, counselors and others, and telling them, ‘You can’t even discuss this idea of sexual orientation, gender identity, unless it’s the view we want you to discuss,” Sharp said. “You can’t question it. You can’t explore whether there’s other options. Or even from the perspective of religious individuals, telling them, ‘You can’t talk about the moral issues implicated with sexual orientation and gender identity, unless it’s the government’s approval on it.”

Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, even compared the bill to torture in a blog post for FRC’s regularly occurring “Washington Update,” saying: “Some extremists like to call this kind of therapy ‘torture.’ But the real torture is telling people who want help they can’t have it.”

But proponents say that conservatives are misrepresenting what the bill does, and that the larger issue is one of ensuring LGBTQ people conned into paying for therapy that will fail to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Even today, both young people and adults are often swindled by unscrupulous practitioners who falsely claim that they can cure a person from being gay or transgender,” Carolyn Reyes, of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “People who go through conversion therapy, whether with a licensed therapist or an unlicensed organization, frequently find that they have wasted years of their lives and thousands of dollars on these false promises. This legislation confirms what courts have already decided: Practicing or advertising conversion therapy is a form of consumer fraud.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com