Metro Weekly

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signs conversion therapy ban into law

Virginia will become the 20th state to ban efforts to change youths' sexual orientation or gender identity

Ralph Northam – Photo: Facebook.

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law banning the practice of conversion therapy on minors in the commonwealth.

Northam’s signature sets Virginia up to become the 20th state to protect LGBTQ youth from being coerced into therapies that attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity once the bill takes effect on July 1.

Sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), the bill prohibits licensed medical professionals from attempting to subject minors to so-called “sexual orientation change efforts” by classifying the practice as a form of “unprofessional conduct” the punishment for which could be the revocation of a medical providers’ license to practice.

The bill also prohibits taxpayer funds from being used to reimburse conversion therapists or agencies that refer LGBTQ youth to such therapists — though it does not apply to parents or counselors who act in a non-professional capacity as religious advisers.

The measure passed the House of Delegates last month by a 66-27 vote, with 11 House Republicans voting in favor of banning the practice. It also passed the Senate on a largely party-line vote, with Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Upperville) voting with Democrats to approve the ban.

Several Republicans, particularly in the Senate, objected to the bill because they felt that existing regulations — approved last year by the state boards that license therapists, social workers, and psychologists — were sufficient enough to convince medical professionals to avoid engaging in the practice, and to protect youth from being coerced into the therapy.

Related: Virginia Senate passes House’s version of bill banning conversion therapy

“Conversion therapy sends the harmful message that there is something wrong with who you are,” Northam said in a statement issued defending his decision to sign the bill into law. “This discriminatory practice has been widely discredited in studies and can have lasting effects on our youth, putting them at a greater risk of depression and suicide. No one should be made to feel they are not okay the way they are — especially not a child. I’m proud to sign this ban into law.”

“Conversion therapy is a dangerous, destructive practice,” Hope added in a statement. “We should be supporting and celebrating our LGTBQ youth, not putting them in harm’s way.”

Virginia is the 20th state to ban conversion therapy, which a majority of medical and mental health experts say is ineffective in changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Some studies even indicate that individuals subjected to conversion therapy may be at greater risk of psychological distress, including depression, self-harm, or suicidal ideation. 

“As a survivor of this dangerous and fraudulent practice, I can’t fathom just how many young LGBTQ lives may be saved with these critical protections from conversion therapy,” Sam Brinton, the head of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, an organization that seeks to prevent youth suicides.

“At The Trevor Project, we hear from LGBTQ youth in crisis every day and we know that those who are subjected to conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. This bold action will send a message to all LGBTQ young people in the great Commonwealth of Virginia that they are loved and deserve support,” Brinton added. “Conversion therapy has no place in modern society and as the first of many LGBTQ-affirming bills to reach the desk of Governor Northam, we are happy to sweep conversion therapy into the dustbin of history.”

Photo: Jon Tyson, via Unsplash.

The bill was also praised by the Campaign for Southern Equality, which noted called the bill — the first ever to be passed by a legislature in the American South — an “historic breakthrough” for the LGBTQ community.

“[This bill is] a clear signal of the rapidly growing public support for LGBTQ equality in the South and sends a salient message: LGBTQ youth must be treated with respect, love, and support,” the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the Campaign’s executive director, said in a statement.

Last year, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper became the first Southern state governor to issue an executive order to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to reimburse practitioners of conversion therapy.

Several states across the nation have introduced bills to ban the practice, including Kentucky, where a Republican is the lead sponsor.

Adam Trimmer, a survivor of conversion therapy who lives in Virginia and serves as the commonwealth’s ambassador for the #BornPerfect campaign seeking to ban the practice in all 50 states, praised Northam’s decision to sign the ban into law.

“I endured anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy, and it was devastating — the only effect it had was a negative one, robbing me of years of my life and requiring so much time, energy, and therapy to pick up the pieces,” Trimmer said in a statement. “Because of this law, this no longer has to be a reality for the next generation…. This is a historic affirmation of LGBTQ dignity and equality, the first in the South to protect our youth from this dangerous and discredited practice.”

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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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