By Ben Gierhart
QueerKentucky spoke with Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky and one of its founders, Tanner Mobley in September of 2019. It’s only been a few short months since then, but already tremendous progress has been made. As of Tuesday, January 14, HB 199 (one can read Representative Lisa Willner’s bill language here: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/hb199.html) and SB 85 have been officially unveiled in the Kentucky state house and senate respectively.
What’s even more impressive is that SB 85 is cosponsored by Republican State Senator Julie Raque Adams, a rare showcase of bipartisanship that speaks well for a future in Kentucky with no conversion therapy for minors.
“We are quickly gaining momentum in this session. The support we are receiving from Republicans and Democrats from all over the state is unprecedented. Multiple Republicans have stated they will cosponsor our senate bill with potential for a bipartisan bill in the House,” says Mobley.
Since September, BCTK has truly become a grassroots movement with individuals all over Kentucky who are volunteering, telling their neighbors and calling their legislators. “These people come from the inner suburbs of the west end of Louisville to the hollers in Hindman, Kentucky. Truly, the support has been all over,” reports Mobley, speaking of the stellar growth the organization has seen recently. Of course, they have continued to work with a coalition of over 50 Kentucky organizations including the Kentucky Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers Kentucky and the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition.
In addition to this support from citizens and legislators, there has been a sea change in the governor’s mansion as well. Newly elected Governor Beshear has made good on several progressive campaign promises, and BCTK is hopeful for his support. “We are receiving support from both sides of the aisle and we are hopeful that our new governor will support Kentucky’s youth by signing into this ban into law,” says Mobley optimistically.
Now that the bills have been proposes in the legislature, the next step is to fight for attention. Over the next several weeks, hundreds of bills will likely be submitted in the Kentucky House and Senate. “We must show our legislators that this is an issue that matters to Kentuckians,” explains Mobley. “This is the fifth year that a bill has been introduced in Kentucky and it is past time that we receive a hearing. When the first bill was submitted in 2016, there was youth as young as 13 being subjected to these dangerous practices that have now reached adulthood. These are folks who will have to live with this trauma for the rest of their lives. We cannot wait another year for potentially hundreds more youth to be subjected to these atrocious practices.” If enough attention is brought to the proposed bills, they will be brought to a vote.
Mobley has wisely prepared for either eventuality. “If the legislation were to pass this session, we would focus our efforts on creating resources and support for survivors of conversion therapy,” he says. “If not, we will continue to submit legislation each year until youth are protected from these dangerous practices. BCTK will continue efforts for education and expanding awareness on these abuse practices; growing our base and reaching out even further.”
Of course, the objective is for the bill to pass and to be signed into law. In order for that to happen Kentucky’s queer community and allies must make their voices heard on the issue. “We have a real chance of passing legislation this year, but this is only possible with public support. Call, email, and tweet your legislators. Show them that this is an issue that can’t be ignored. Young lives are literally at stake.”
HB 199 and SB 85 have the potential for national implications. If Kentucky were to become the first state in the South to ban conversion therapy, it would unequivocally send a message to LGBTQ+ youth and people of all ages that they are valued and welcomed and they will be included here in Kentucky. “If passed, I think you would quickly see other Southern states like West Virginia and Florida follow suit,” agrees Mobley.
It is abundantly clear that the time to act is now. “This is not a partisan issue. Nearly half of the laws on the books have been signed by Republican governors, including Nevada, New Mexico, and most recently, Utah, with an executive order to protect youth from these dangerous practices,” says Mobley fervently. “All conservative states whose legislators understood that so-called conversion therapy is a violation of basic human rights and dignity and it causes great harm.”
To learn more about these bills and learn how to support Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, please visit banconversiontherapyky.org.