Check out this article by Shira Schoenberg of the Springfield Republican:
The Massachusetts House passed a bill on Wednesday that would ban “conversion therapy” for minors. Conversion therapy tries to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“So-called conversion therapy…has been debunked and discredited,” said Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who worked on the bill. “It is a fraudulent medical practice.”
Arline Isaacson, co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said the bill is important for gay, lesbian and transgender youth “who have been forced into this barbaric treatment by well-intentioned families who did not realize how damaging it would be to their kids.”
The bill passed the House 137-14. The only Democrat to vote against it was Rep. James Dwyer, D-Woburn. Republicans were split. Some Republicans raised concerns about free speech and about government interference in medicine.
Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica, said he supports banning a type of conversion therapy that causes a child pain in order to change their sexual orientation.
“What I don’t support, however, is the idea of government interfering with parental rights and relationships between doctors and patients,” Lombardo said. “The idea that a doctor can’t speak to a 12-year-old child about some alternatives to permanent life-changing surgeries without being in violation of a law and potentially losing a medical license is crazy to me.”
Conversion therapy is a type of medical therapy that aims to make someone who is gay, straight. In some forms of therapy, referred to as aversive conditioning, a therapist might induce nausea or administer electric shock when someone has a sexual reaction to someone of the same sex. Therapy could include hypnosis or teaching someone that having sexual feelings for someone of the same sex is shameful.
Many established medical organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics have condemned conversion therapy. It has been banned in 13 states.
The bill, H.4664, would prohibit any state-licensed mental health professional from performing therapy on someone under 18 that aims to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Health care providers who advertise or perform conversion therapy would be subject to discipline from their licensing board, which could include having their license suspended or revoked.
The bill would not affect counseling by non-licensed religious counselors.
A therapist would still be allowed to conduct any kind of professionally accepted therapy to help someone cope with issues surrounding their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Isaacson said conversion therapy stems from a time when people thought being gay was a sickness and a choice. “It’s predicated on the notion that being LGBT means you’re sick or ungodly and are in need of fixing, of changing, of conversion,” Isaacson said. “Now people understand it’s not a sickness, people know you can’t change someone.”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said, “This practice has no scientific basis, is rooted in bigotry and can have lasting, detrimental health effects.”
According to advocates for the bill, conversion therapy has been associated with depression, self-loathing and suicide when used on young people. It is not effective in changing someone’s sexual orientation.
“Being exposed to conversion therapy practices can be emotionally and psychologically traumatizing for any individual, particularly the LGBTQ minors who are at a vulnerable stage in their lives,” said Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, who sponsored the bill.
Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham, who is gay and was formerly the executive director of an organization that helps gay youth, said he frequently worked with kids who worried that their therapists and their parents would not accept who they were and would try to change them.
“Since these barbaric practices were still law in Massachusetts, who were we to assure them this wasn’t the case?” Lewis said. Lewis said his message to gay youth is, “There’s nothing wrong with you, nothing is broken and nothing needs fixing.”
Similar bans in California and New Jersey have been challenged and upheld. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 declined to take up a challenge to California’s ban.
The conservative Massachusetts Family Institute argued that a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday related to disclosure requirements placed on anti-abortion pregnancy centers in California could threaten the bill. Part of that ruling stated that speech by professionals is protected.
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said the group is asking lawmakers to “preserve our freedom to speak the truth.”
Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, introduced an amendment that would have banned any practices that physically hurt a child, but allowed therapy that uses speech alone to try to change someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We do not need to take away people’s First Amendment rights,” Lyons said. “Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals.” Lyons’ amendment was voted down 117-34, largely along party lines.
Advocates for the bill say it does not impede free speech. “What we are limiting is a debunked and medically unsound and medically unrecognized practice,” Peake said. “We are not limiting speech.” Khan said the bill falls with the Legislature’s power “to regulate health care practice, not speech, and legislate for the welfare of our children.”
An earlier version of the bill would have deemed it “child abuse” for a parent to take a child to undergo conversion therapy, which could have allowed the Department of Children and Families to intervene. That language was taken out of the final bill.
The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration. If it passes the Senate, it will go to Gov. Charlie Baker.
Baker spokeswoman Sarah Finlaw said, “The administration is proud of the Commonwealth’s history of support for equal rights and protecting all citizens against discrimination, and we will carefully review any legislation that reaches the Governor’s desk.”