There have been countless studies over the years that show conversion therapy not only doesn’t work, but can be extremely harmful for children who are forced to go through it. Considering how kids already are going through enough while trying to figure out who they are in general, not just in regards to their sexual orientation or gender identity, there’s absolutely no reason for them to be forced into going through something that’s proven to have potentially devastating impacts on their life.
With that in mind, Del. Patrick Hope and Sen. Scott Surovell have introduced legislation preventing healthcare professionals licensed by the Department of Health Professions (DPOR) from engaging in conversion therapy. They’ve both worked on the issue in previous legislative sessions, but homophobic and transphobic Republicans did everything they could to prevent the legislation from actually becoming law. Now that there’s a majority that believes the LGBT community deserves to have its basic rights respected, there’s a stronger likelihood of the legislation passing.
Similar legislation has already been passed in over a dozen other states including Maryland and DC. And the Virginia version would simply codify regulations put in place last year stating that any licensed professional who engaged in conversion therapy with minors would be subject to disciplinary action from their licensing board for what’s considered unprofessional conduct. By codifying the regulations, future administrations wouldn’t be able to suddenly change the policy in a desperate attempt to implement an anti-LGBT agenda.
This is most definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s also a glaring loophole as religious leaders wouldn’t be impacted by the legislation since they’re not licensed healthcare professionals. This move’s likely designed to overcome objections that a conversion therapy ban would amount to religious discrimination, but it also means many homophobic parents would simply bypass licensed professionals who could truly help their child figure everything out and lay a foundation that would allow them to thrive.
In a statement announcing the legislation had been introduced, Sen. Surovell highlighted how this is about protecting children who are statistically already at an increased risk of suicide.
“Not only is this practice harmful to our youth developing their gender identity, but from a legal standpoint, conversion therapy is abusive given the mental health repercussions and has been associated with increased suicide risk. It is a fraudulent practice, found to be malpractice in some states, and this will protect our children from beliefs rooted in bigotry,” Surovell said. “The General Assembly has a duty to permanently protect children from being targeted and hurt by these dangerous discredited practices. Failure to codify this could result in a reversal of these regulations by a future administration.”
While echoing Surovell’s sentiments, Del. Hope also highlighted how it’s simply wrong for people to be promoting the idea that being gay or transgender is something that’s “a sin or disease” that prevents people from being worthwhile human beings.
“So-called “conversion therapy” is not only ineffective it is a harmful and dangerous practice, especially when targeted at our children. It’s based on the evil notion that being a homosexual is a sin or a disease that needs treatment,” Hope said. “It’s past time Virginia joined the medical professional societies of the world and outright banned this backwards practice. Virginia is a place of acceptance and inclusion and the General Assembly will take whatever steps necessary to protect our children from this destructive practice.”
This isn’t the only legislation that’s been introduced designed to respect the basic rights of the LGBT community. There have been bills introduced to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing or employment, for instance, in addition to legislation making it easier for transgender people to get ID with their proper gender marker. Other bills also protect LGBT students Virginia schools.
For what it’s worth, these bills aren’t just being introduced as a way for lawmakers to act like they’re doing something good for the LGBT community. I’ve had people like Sen. Jennifer Boysko passionately talk with me in one on one conversations about how she’s taking the lead on some bills to help stand for basic equality. While this might seem like something small, I think it goes a long way in showing how the new Democratic majority is truly interested in creating a Commonwealth where everyone has an opportunity to succeed.
In other words, Virginia has leaders who truly believe we should stand up to the values of being a “Commonwealth.”