Bill to ban ‘conversion therapy’ progresses in state legislature

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by Tom Stone
He/him
contact@queerkentucky.com

Standing on the steps of the Kentucky statehouse Tuesday, organizers of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky shared recent successes in the six-year battle to pass legislation to ban conversion therapy in the state.

For the first time ever, a bill to protect LGBTQ+ youth from “conversion therapy” recently made it to the stage of being assigned to a committee in the Senate.  It was assigned to the Health and Welfare Committee in the Senate. Many of the committee’s members are co-sponsors of the bill. It is called the “Youth Mental Health Protection Act.” And it is known as Senate Bill 137 (SB 137).

The companion bill in the House goes by the same title with a different number – House Bill 12 (HB 12).  

There is bipartisan support for these bills (with both Democrats and Republicans as co-sponsors) and Governor Andy Beshear has endorsed them. In addition, the Kentucky Council of Churches recently endorsed the bills.  The council is the state’s largest faith coalition – representing 1,100 congregations.

“All member bodies of the Kentucky Council of Churches affirm that God’s care is meant for all people,” said Rev. Kent Gilbert, Chair of the KCC Justice and Advocacy Commission. “We recognize that certain practices — perhaps charitably thought helpful in the past — have caused serious injury to the mental health and well-being of too many Kentuckians. So-called ‘Conversion Therapy’ is such a practice.”

Conversion “therapy” is the attempt to alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. Medical and psychological professions across Kentucky and the U.S, have discredited the use of conversion therapy due to the process being found to be both unsuccessful and dangerous. Numerous studies have found children subjected to conversion therapy are a greater risk to attempt suicide. A 2021 survey by the Trevor Project, national suicide prevention organization, determined that 42 percent of young people who experienced conversion therapy attempted suicide in one calendar year alone.

“For too long, the good people of our state have been misled by a small few, armed with outworn slogans and the ruthless dismissal of facts, away from the factual truth that Kentucky kids are committing suicide.” said Rebecca Blankenship, Executive Director of BCTK. “We believe a much more broadly shared faith is that we shall do no harm to the kids of Kentucky. A 2021 poll already showed that 74% of Kentuckians already know: conversion therapy belongs in the dustbin of history.”

Blankenship is especially passionate about this because her wife was a victim of conversion therapy. Afterward, she was forced to be married to a man for 15 years who was an alcoholic who abused her.

“I am deeply committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Blankenship said. “Kentuckians are coming together on this.”

Another example of this is that leaders of both the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans endorsed the bill. In recent years, Blankenship said, “there has been a surge of momentum worldwide” to ban conversion therapy. Some countries have adopted national bans. In Kentucky, thus far, there are bans in certain cities – Louisville, Covington and Lexington. About 20 states have passed statewide bans.

Blankenship said that some Republicans approach the Conversion Therapy Ban as a “pro-life” bill – to “help keep kids alive” in Kentucky.

“However well-intentioned [a practitioner’s] motives may be, no one should be made to suffer a practice that is neither humane nor effective,” Gilbert said.

Blankenship is optimistic about the chances of the bills being passed by both the Senate and the House during the current legislative session.

“If there is the political courage, we will win,” she said. The time has come for families to no longer be scammed by this dangerous practice, she said.

One big next step is for HB 12 to be assigned to a committee. This year’s regular session of the legislature meets for just 60 business days and that wraps up for the most part at the end of this month.

There are many ways you can help this effort:

  • Call 1-800-372-7181 to contact Senators on the Health and Welfare Committee saying you support Kentucky’s kids and SB 137.
  • Call 1-800-372-7181 to leave a message for House leadership asking for HB 12 to be assigned to a committee.
  • Become a Board member of BCTK. Apply by March 15. A link to the application is on their Facebook page (listed below).

You can follow developments at the BCTK Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BanConTherapyKY. Names of House and Senate members who have co-sponsored the legislation is listed there as well as the name of various organizations to endorse the ban. One such organization is the Kentucky Society for Clinical Social Work.

Learn more about the BCTK group at their website — banconversiontherapyky.org.

For a complete list of the Senators sponsoring SB 137, visit https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/22RS/sb137.html.

For a complete list of the House representatives sponsoring HB 12, visit https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/22rs/hb12.html.

Clicking on the name of a legislator on those two pages will take you to their contact information including their phone number and email address.

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