Post submitted by HRCLaw Fellow Seth Phillips.

On Friday, June 27, the Committee on Health of the Council of the District of Columbia, chaired by Councilmember Yvette Alexander, convened a hearing regarding Bill 20-501, the “Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Amendment Act of 2013.” Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel for HRC, presented testimony in support of the measure.

First introduced in October 2013, the bill would prevent a licensed therapist, social worker or other mental health professional from engaging in so-called ”conversion therapy” to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of an individual who is under the age of 18. Doing so would subject the license holder to professional discipline or other penalties. Neither conversion therapy for adults nor non-licensed religious practitioners would be affected by this bill.

Young people seeking support and counseling would continue to have access to licensed therapy to help them discover and work through their own sexual orientation. This bill is aimed at protecting minors from dangerous and harmful practices that purport to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Openly gay D.C. Councilmember and Mayoral candidate David Catania identified the individual’s internalized anti-gay feelings as the real mental health condition afflicting those would-be clients of conversion therapy.

Despite five hours of oral testimony from supporters and opponents of the measure, no opponent of the bill who testified had undergone conversion therapy as a minor. Most made the decision to pursue conversion therapy in their 20’s or, as in the case of one proponent, had never gone through any direct therapy, but received similar “support” from church members. Several opponents attempted to distract from the matter at hand, dangerous and ineffective conversion therapy for youth, by falsely claiming that same-sex attraction was the result of sexual assault or other trauma.

Compelling testimony was offered by supporters of the measure both from the professional therapist community and individuals who had undergone conversion therapy, some as children. Most testified to feelings of depression, self-hatred, isolation and alienation from opposite-sex family members as a part of their conversion therapy experience. Many noted that extensive time and actual  therapy was needed before they ultimately learned to accept themselves and go on to lead normal, healthy lives as openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons.

The hearing record will remain open until July 11th for the submission of additional testimony.

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