Post submitted by Elisabeth Rutledge, HRC state legislative team consultant

This month, for the first time ever, the Texas House held a hearing on HB 517, a bill introduced by Rep. Celia Israel to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy.”  While Israel has introduced this bill every session since her election, this was the first time it had a hearing – a major step forward in a state legislature that spent this last session focused on several anti-LGBTQ bills.

When Israel was elected in January 2014, she was only the second LGBTQ woman in the Texas legislature, joining Rep. Mary González, who was first elected in 2012. In the 2018 election, three more openly LGBTQ women were elected to the House: Jessica González, Julie Johnson and Erin Zwiener. Together, they founded the state’s first-ever LGBTQ Caucus, which counts more than 20 allies as members as well.

At the hearing on May 1 in the Public Health Committee, Israel testified about her own journey from self-doubt to being the openly LGBTQ leader that she is today. One hundred and fourteen people registered their support for this bill, and 49 registered their opposition.

The practice of “conversion therapy” is particularly cruel, as it tells vulnerable youth that the people closest to them -- and society at large -- believe they need to be “fixed.” Bills like HB 517 and hearings like this  can show LGBTQ youth that there are people fighting for them.

After the hearing, HB 517 was left pending in committee, and the deadline has passed for House bills to move forward this session.  However, if history is any guide, Israel will introduce this bill again in the next legislative session in 2021. Perhaps then the House will be ready to move the bill further on behalf of LGBTQ youth across Texas.

There is no credible evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. To the contrary, research has clearly shown that these practices pose devastating health risks for LGBTQ young people such as depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness and even suicidal behavior. The harmful practice is condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Medical Association.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have all enacted laws or regulations to protect minors from the harmful practice. Puerto Rico’s Governor recently issued an executive order protecting minors in the commonwealth from the harmful practice. A growing number of municipalities have also enacted similar protections, including at least fifty cities and counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, New York, Arizona and Wisconsin.More information on the lies and dangers of efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity can be found here.

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