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2014 will see bill to regulate ‘ex-gay’ therapy

Mike Mullen//December 31, 2013

2014 will see bill to regulate ‘ex-gay’ therapy

Mike Mullen//December 31, 2013

Rep. Susan Allen

Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, wants to prohibit licensed therapists from administering “ex-gay” therapy to youths under 18 years of age. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)


Rep. Susan Allen talks about proposal to ban conversion treatment for those under 18 

A new proposal to regulate the controversial “ex-gay” therapy treatment for gay and lesbian youth has not been introduced yet, but the bill’s chief author is already trying to clear up some confusion. Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, said early press reports about the proposal have referred to an attempt to “ban” that kind of therapy, which is not true.

What Allen wants, instead, is to prohibit licensed therapists from administering that treatment — commonly called “conversion” or “reparative” therapy — to youths under 18 years of age. Allen expects that the bill will be met with at least some opposition from the same religious issues groups that spoke against the gay marriage and school bullying bills last session.

But she is confident that the law is on her side: Similar legislation, passed in California, was challenged by a lawsuit from therapists and family groups; this summer, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law as constitutional, saying parental rights do not protect the use of treatment that is “reasonably harmful.”

Allen spoke to Capitol Report to outline what the proposed law would and would not do, and how she expects the debate to play out next year.

Capitol Report: What changes would be made by this legislation?

Susan Allen: How it’s been referred to in the press is as a “ban” on conversion therapy. It’s not really a ban — a ban implies that it’s censorship and discriminatory. This is something, really, to regulate the licenses for psychologists. What it does is, it prohibits those that are licensed by medical boards from providing therapies that are supposed to bring about a change in sexual orientation. It’s basically trying to protect minors from sexual orientation change efforts.

Under the proposed bill, if the provider is found to be practicing that kind of therapy, they would be engaged in unprofessional conduct, and then they would be subject to actions by the provider’s licensing board. It’s something we do regularly at the legislature, in which you regulate those that are licensed to practice. We impose certain boundaries for practice areas based on research and empirical evidence. This type of therapy, for the last 40 years, has been rejected, and found to be harmful to minors.

CR: What arguments, either scientific or social, would you plan to make in favor of this law?

Allen: You can see how it played out in California and New Jersey. There were concerns that it was violating free speech and religious freedom, and those arguments were rejected, recently, by the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals]. Based on the scientific evidence that they produced, and the research, they proved there was a rational basis for preventing this type of therapy. It wasn’t infringing on religious rights, because it was regulating conduct that was deemed to be harmful.

It would probably be similar to some of the committee hearings on the marriage equality bill, in that parents are concerned that their parenting rights would be infringed, and their religious beliefs are being discriminated against. That came up a lot, especially during debate on the bullying legislation — that somehow the state was interfering with what parents wanted to teach their children. But that doesn’t hold up.

CR: One argument that will probably come up would be along those lines, about parents’ discretion with their own children. How would you counter that?

Allen: Well, it’s not a ban on conversion, or what religious organizations or self-help groups do. On parental rights, this bill wouldn’t touch that. It’s focused on licensed providers, and the types of therapies that they provide, and stopping them from therapies that have proven to be harmful.

CR: Are you concerned that some legislators, especially in the House, might not want to wade into complicated social issues during an election year?

Allen: Maybe. But I think we’ve done a lot of work on this, especially Sen. [Scott] Dibble and Rep. [Karen] Clark, and some of the organizations that were involved in passing the marriage law.

I think a lot of that hesitancy — I don’t see that, I think most legislators are willing to admit that there’s been a social change, and there’s awareness about the discrimination that people experience. I don’t think people are afraid of addressing that. Many of the [legislative] districts are conservative in many regards, but are socially progressive. I’m very hopeful about the conversations we had with many of the members when the marriage bill was being considered. I think it’s not going to be the same long process that it took for marriage equality to be passed.

CR: Last session there was a concerted effort to get at least some Republican votes in favor of gay marriage. Do you think that would be a good idea to pursue with this bill?

Allen: Yes, I think it would be. I watched Rep. Clark and Sen. Dibble reach out to every legislator individually, and try to address their concerns. That could mean some interesting conversations. [Laughs] I think this type of therapy is something that’s very personal to people. This is something that I think people are aware of, and the emotions that come up when a family has a child come out as gay.

We have a lot of teens that are having difficulty coming out to their families, and we have higher rates of substance abuse and suicide among LGBT youth. I think a lot of that centers on issues families have with children who are going through questions about their sexual identity. LGBT youth are at risk, and we need to focus on therapies that work.

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