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A pair of lawmakers in Indiana have introduced a bill seeking to protect LGBTQ youth from being subjected to conversion therapy to try to forcibly change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill, which was introduced by State Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Carmel) and State Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie), would prohibit minors from being subjected to the practice, which alleges to alter a person’s orientation or gender identity — or at least curb their impulses to engage in same-sex conduct or gender-nonconformity — through various methods. Those methods can include talk therapy, hypnosis, “praying over” a person, or more harmful methods of aversion therapy, including sleep deprivation, forced vomiting, or electroshock therapy.
Critics of conversion therapy note that the practice’s claims have been largely debunked by most mainstream medical and mental health organizations, and that survivors of the therapy often experience depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal ideation afterwards.
“Putting a stop to this harmful and detrimental practice can save the lives of countless LGBTQ Hoosiers,” Ford said in a statement. “A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not a disease that needs cured. In fact, every major medical and mental health organization in our country has condemned the use of ‘conversion therapy.'”
He continued: “There is no financial risk to our state government for approving this legislation, so why not do this? I’m counting on all Hoosiers to help me get this across the finish line. Call your state senators. Call your state representatives. Call our governor. Tell them that Indiana doesn’t support hate in our state.”
Indiana Democrats introduced similar legislation during the 2019 legislative session, but was bottled up in committee by the Republican majority, which refused to grant the bill a hearing or even refer it to a study committee. Twenty states have already banned the practice, including neighboring Illinois, and attempts to ban the therapy are currently being waged in courts throughout the nation.
“Most Hoosiers have never heard of ‘conversion therapy’ or think it doesn’t happen here, but it does,” added Errington. “I personally know some of my constituents were subjected to ‘conversion therapy’ as children and are concerned about its use on young people today.”
Conversion therapy has been a hot-button issue in politics in recent years, with proponents of the practice claiming bans on the therapy infringe on parental and religious rights.
The debate over the therapy has even ensnared Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who said in a statement posted to his campaign website in 2000 that he would only support reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act if federal dollars were withheld from LGBTQ-affirming organizations that “celebrate” and “encourage” behaviors, like same-sex intimacy, that facilitate the spread of HIV.
The statement also argued that institutions should provide “assistance to those looking to change their sexual behavior” before receiving Ryan White funds, which provide financial support for health care treatments for people living with HIV who lack sufficient insurance coverage. Critics, including former South Bend Mayor and soon-to-be Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, have alleged that that wording is a “dog-whistle” indicating support for conversion therapy.
Mathew Shurka, a survivor of conversion therapy and co-founder of Born Perfect, a campaign by the National Center for Lesbian Rights to ban the practice in all 50 states, has noted that people who agree to enroll their children are often misled by mental health professionals who know that the therapy will not deliver on all of its promises.
To address exploitation of vulnerable families, the bill would ensure that therapists who subject minors to conversion therapy face sanctions or discipline from licensing boards or other entities that regulate professional behavior.
“Conversion therapy preys on vulnerable families and youth by promoting the deadly lie that being LGBTQ is a choice,” Shurka said in a statement. “Believing that lie has caused incalculable damage to LGBTQ young people, who urgently need to know that they are born perfect. It is important that Indiana join the growing bipartisan movement to address this abuse.”
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