Metro Weekly

Maryland governor signs conversion therapy bill into law

Measure to prohibit sexual orientation change efforts passed with bipartisan support

Larry Hogan – Photo: Office of the Governor.

On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed into law a bill that prohibits licensed therapists or counselors from subjecting minors to conversion therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The therapy, also known as “reparative therapy” or “ex-gay therapy,” is aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or preventing them from acting upon their feelings of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.

People who have previously been subjected to conversion therapy have reported that it can take various forms, ranging from mental tricks or breathing techniques when tempted to act upon their feelings, to more intense forms of aversion therapy, such as public shaming, hypnosis, inducing vomiting, or electroconvulsive therapy.

According to a recent report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, an estimated 20,000 LGBTQ-identifying minors could be forced to undergo conversion therapy at the hands of a licensed therapist or counselor if there is no law explicitly banning the practice. 

The bill to ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors was introduced by State Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery Co.), currently one of several Democrats running for governor, and in the House by Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery Co.).

The ban passed both chambers with bipartisan support, particularly after Del. Meagan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel Co.), in an emotional speech on the House floor, revealed that her parents had considered seeking out conversion therapy for her after she came out to them as bisexual. Hogan expressed his support for the measure as well.

“The governor was pleased to sign this bill, and believes it’s the right thing to do,” Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, confirmed.

LGBTQ advocates have long maintained — and pointed to research backing up their claims — that sexual orientation and gender identity are not choices and cannot be changed through conversion therapy. They note that LGBTQ-identifying people who have been subjected to the therapy have been found to be at higher risk for depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and suicidal ideation.

The practice has also been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Medical Association.

“No child should ever be subjected to the abusive practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,'” Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “This dangerous and ​inhumane form of child abuse has no basis in science and is ​uniformly rejected by every major mental health and child welfare ​organization. Today, Maryland is a better place for countless young people thanks to the many advocates, allies, parents, and survivors who spoke out against this practice and urged their elected officials — Republicans and Democrats alike — to adopt these crucial protections.”

Hogan’s signature makes the Free State the 13th jurisdiction to take steps to curb the practice. Connecticut, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State, and the District of Columbia have all passed sweeping laws that explicitly prohibit conversion therapy.

New York State has tinkered with regulations to ensure the practice cannot be covered by health insurance, as a way to circumvent its Republican-run State Senate. Several municipalities in other states have also passed similar laws in the absence of action by their state legislators.

“In signing this legislation, Governor Hogan joined the General Assembly in choosing to not only protect LGBTQ youth from harm, but to send an affirmation to children across Maryland who may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Mark Procopio, the executive director of FreeState Justice, said in a statement. “They are perfect as they are.”

Matthew Shurka, a survivor of conversion therapy who now works with the National Center for Lesbian Rights on its #BornPerfect campaign to ban conversion therapy in all states by the end of 2019, hailed the bill’s passage.

“By sharing our stories, survivors like Meagan Simonaire and myself can help change hearts and minds to protect LGBTQ youth. Today, the state of Maryland took an important step to ensure that all of Maryland’s young people know that they are born perfect.”

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