Metro Weekly

D.C. mayor signs first law prohibiting conversion therapy on adults

Bill seeks to protect LGBTQ adults who are unable to make their own health care decisions

Muriel Bowser – Photo: American Federation of Government Employees, via Wikimedia.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed a first-of-its-kind law that prohibits licensed therapists in the District from subjecting people over the age of 18 to various forms of conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy claims to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through the suppression of desires, often involving different techniques ranging from aversion therapy to electroshock therapy.

D.C. previously passed a law banning the practice on minors in 2014. Fifteen other states and several dozen municipalities throughout the country have also banned conversion therapy in recent years.

Specifically, D.C.’s bill extends the protections under its ban on youth therapy to include adults under the care of guardians or conservators, which often includes those with mental disabilities or who have not been deemed mentally deficient.

“Medical and mental health professionals condemn the practice of conversion therapy, which is why I previously banned the practice for minors: to protect them from the increased risk of depression, substance abuse, and suicide that is associated with this harmful practice,” Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a statement.

“This bill now fills a further gap to ensure that conversion therapy cannot be forced on someone who is unable to provide consent,” Cheh added. “It is courageous to live an open, honest life — full of purpose and meaning. I see none of those values in these types of therapies and they must not be accepted in the District of Columbia.”

Major LGBTQ groups praised the legislation for taking the next step toward completely eliminating the practice, which they note has been condemned by most major mental health and medical associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Nobody should be subjected to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. This is especially true of those, like minors or adults under guardianship, who are limited in their ability to consent to these so-called ‘treatments,'” Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “The Trevor Project was proud to offer testimony in support of this legislation, and we are grateful to the D.C. Council for acting to protect vulnerable LGBTQ adults.”

“With this measure, D.C. is leading the nation in protecting some of our most vulnerable LGBTQ people — those who despite their adulthood are not allowed are not allowed by the state to make their own medical decisions,” Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, senior policy counsel for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a statement. “Far too often we’ve seen guardianship being used to prevent LGBTQ people from being who they are. This bill is a monumental step in the right direction and we hope other states follow D.C.’s example.”

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

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