Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s top LGBTQ organization, is urging its supporters to take some time to get in some last-minute comments on proposed professional regulations that would punish mental health practitioners, counselors, or social workers from attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The public comment forum for the Board of Medicine’s guidance document will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
In the past, LGBTQ advocates have introduced bills to ban licensed therapists from subjecting minors to conversion therapy, but all have consistently been killed in subcommittee in both the Republican-led House of Delegates and Senate. So activists began embracing another option: getting Virginia’s licensing boards, which can promulgate their own regulations, without having to seek approval from the General Assembly.
Earlier this year, the Virginia Board of Psychology and the Board of Counseling released guidance that declared subjecting patients to conversion therapy a form of “misconduct” that could carry repercussions for therapists or counselors who engage in it. Both boards also opened up online forums to receive public comments, which are taken into account when a new regulation is proposed.
Of course, with Democrats taking control of the General Assembly starting in January, there may still be an opportunity for a statute explicitly banning the practice on minors. But in the meantime, advocates have focused on ensuring that the regulations take effect — an approach favored by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) instead of an outright ban.
“As a former member of the Board of Medicine, I know the process works to protect patients and hold clinicians accountable by restricting or revoking their license to practice,” Dunnavant said in a statement clarifying her stance on conversion therapy ahead of November’s elections, when she narrowly defeated Del. Debra Rodman (D-Henrico) in a fiercely fought contest. “Bottom line, I condemn [sexual orientation change efforts] and believe the clinicians on our boards are the appropriate experts to regulate clinical licenses.”
Equality Virginia notes that conversion therapy, despite being touted by some conservative groups, actually has very little scientific basis, as it operates from the assumption that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that needs to be cured. The organization has also taken the stance that mental health professionals should provide ethical and affirming care that meets patients’ needs and desired goals, not that aligns with a therapist’s personal moral or religious views.
Additionally, the therapy has been shown to increase feelings of depression, suicidal thoughts, and even suicide attempts among those subjected to it, largely because it capitalizes on a patient’s feelings of shame and societal rejection in an effort to encourage them to commit to the therapy, with the eventual goal being a change in orientation or behavior.
“If these bans pass, engaging in conversion therapy will be grounds for removing of a license to practice psychology, counseling, or social work,” Equality Virginia noted in an email. “By using these public comment forums, you are able to let the boards know that residents of the Commonwealth do not see conversion therapy as an acceptable practice and we expect Virginia to change its standard.”
To submit a comment on the proposed regulation to the Board of Medicine, visit townhall.virginia.gov.
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