Proposal to curtail conversion therapy studied by lawmakers

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Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, testifying in support of the proposed Youth Mental Health Act.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – A legislative panel heard testimony on proposed legislation to regulate gender identity change efforts, often referred to as conversion therapy.

“We want to acknowledge that there are good and loving people who want this practice to work, who desperately want to believe in this practice,” Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said while presenting the proposed measure before yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. “But the facts remain that practices to change sexual orientation … are dangerous, discredited and sometimes deadly.”

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Willner said the proposed bill, titled the Youth Mental Health Act, would prohibit licensed or certified mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts on anyone under the age of 18. It would also apply to people over 18 who are considered “vulnerable” under the law.

A second provision would prohibit tax dollars from being distributed to entities that engage in these efforts with a person of any age.

Willner, a psychologist by trade, acknowledged the bill wouldn’t stop all conversion therapy from happening in Kentucky. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything that we can as policymakers to take common-sense, practical steps to protect as many of our Kentucky youths as we possibly can,” she said.

The proposed bill would not prohibit non-licensed people from engaging in this therapy, partly because of enforcement difficulties, Willner said. The measure also would not prohibit mental health professionals from providing this therapy to adults.

House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, asked whether regulating conversion therapy should be left to professional licensing boards. “I really struggle with the concept that we, in the General Assembly, should be dictating best practices here,” he said.

Willner said the boards have told her it would be helpful to have clarification in statute when it comes to addressing conversion therapy. “They do not write regulations unless there is a statute to provide a framework for it,” she added.

Daniel Mingo was one of three people who testified against the proposed bill. He said he overcame his unwanted, same-gender attractions through the kind of therapy the proposed bill would curtail. Mingo said he went on to found a group in Louisville for people who have the same unwanted attractions.

“For the last 17 years I have ministered to, and lay counseled, same-sex attracted and gender dysphoric Christian individuals in Kentucky who have LGBT feelings that for them also are unwanted,” he said. “My concern for this proposed legislation is that it will hurt people I care about.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, asked what language in the proposed bill would prevent parents of religious leaders from having discussions with their children about sexual orientation or identification.

“It does not attempt to regulate conversations between parents and children,” Mingo said in response. “What it does do is prevent parents and children from getting professional therapeutic help.”

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, addressed concerns that the proposed legislation would infringe on the rights of parents.

“It is interesting to me that we view that parental relationship as absolute – that I am the only one that can determine what is right for my children,” said Adams. “The truth is that if I’m a drug addict I lose that right to make those determinations for my kids. The truth is if I want to mutilate my daughter’s genitals that right has been taken away from me. The truth is if I want to marry off my 13-year-old that right has been taken away from me. The truth is if I beat the crap out of my kids those rights are taken away from me.

“There are instances after instances after instances in which the legislature does modify that parental aspect.”

Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, asked whether conversion therapy was effective or a misguided principle practiced by well-intentioned people.

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, who also testified in support of the legislation, said one fact, in particular, illustrated why conversion therapy was misguided. “People who are subjected to this kind of torture are seven times more likely to commit suicide,” she said.

Mingo disputed Kerr’s assertion. “I think it has been proven effective if you are listening to the people who it has been proven effective for,” he said. “You won’t hear that in the mainstream media. There are thousands upon thousands of people who have walked away successfully from a homosexual lifestyle.”

Nemes said Kerr defended her arguments with statistics while Mingo answered anecdotally.

“One of the things about these bills that has become very clear to me is there are good people on both sides of the issue,” Committee Co-chair Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said of the proposed bill and similar measures from prior sessions. “They are deeply, deeply, deeply personal. That is why I think so many people are conflicted about them.”