BOSTON - Lawmakers are hoping the second time's the charm when it comes to passing a ban on a controversial therapy in Massachusetts.
The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Kay Khan, would prohibit state licensed mental health providers from using therapy techniques aimed at changing the sexual orientation or gender identity of children.
The bill bans conversion therepy for children but would still allow adults to engage in conversion therapy if they choose.
"Conversion therapy is based on the concept that people's sexual orientation or gender identity can be fixed," said Harriet Chandler, State Rep. for Worcester. "Well I say, there's nothing to fix."
On Tuesday, lawmakers, pediatricians and activists gathered in the statehouse to tell the Joint Committee on Children and Families that conversion therapy is widely discredited by medical and mental health associations.
They urged that such an approach could also lead to suicude and depression.
"I'm here to say that I strongly believe that I would not be here today if I were put in conversion therapy," said Catherine O'Connor, 15-year-old student at Brookline High School. "I am certain that I would either be institutionalized, missing out on more of my education or even dead."
Likewise, Michelle Samuels, a student at Boston University said conversion therapy may send a damaging message.
"For behaviorial health providers then the message it sends is this, that an incredible part of these kids is in fact, an illness...that there is something wrong with them," she said.
On the flip side, the public hearing also heard from parents and former LGBT men and women who say the therapy has helped them.
Opponents of the ban, including the Massachusetts Family Institute, and surprisingly two victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, say the state shouldn’t come between a patient and their therapist. They believe therapy that addresses gender identity should be allowed.
The opposition says the legislature should safeguard the rights of all people with unwanted sexual attractions to seek out their treatment of choice and protect them from being labeled against their will as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.
For instance, Ken Williams of the Changed Movement, said after connecting his sexual abuse to his attraction to men, a Christian therapist helped changed his life.
"It was just talk therapy," he said. "I just shared what I was feeling and realized there was a lot of underlying issues that were beneath the same sex attractions."
If passed, the bill would label certain types of counseling on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity as "child abuse."
Nearly a dozen states have already approved similiar conversion therapy bans, including California, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
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