RHODE ISLAND, U.S.A. Rhode Island is the latest in a series of states to take legislative action against conversion therapies for minors. The bill, known as the Prevention of Conversion Therapy for Children Act, aims to prohibit “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts by licensed health care professionals with respect to children under eighteen years of age.”
If passed, Rhode Island will be the fourth state after California, New Jersey, and Washington State to ban these efforts for minors. The Rhode Island bill has been held for further study since March 18, according to the General Assembly’s Legislative Status Report.
Senator Adam Satchell, D-West Warwick, one of the senators who introduced the bill, believes the legislation’s timing is just right. “It was the perfect storm of circumstances. It just so happened to be the session after we passed marriage equality,” he said.
“It’s okay for same-sex marriages, to be in same-sex relationships, but to still have that someone can convince you that you’re not homosexual—you’re restricting their right to be themselves,” he added.
Satchell said legislators heard an emotional testimony from a woman who underwent conversion therapy in Ohio and had moved with her partner to Rhode Island last year after marriage equality passed in the state. State Senator Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, has since introduced a measure to prohibit conversion therapy in Ohio.
Bills across the country reflect an increasing attention to the therapy’s efficacy and its potentially harmful impact. The American Psychological Association (APA) has studied sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) for decades.
The APA became more attentive to SOCE in the late 1980s when groups began to advocate strongly for the therapy’s effectiveness, said Clinton Anderson, director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns Office.
The APA then developed a Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation in February 2007 to review the proposed therapies’ value and safety.
According to the final report published in 2009, what constitutes conversion therapy varies from induced nausea to gender role reconditioning. Though some participants reported positive results, many others described detrimental effects, such as increased self-hatred, increased substance abuse, losses of faith, and suicidal thoughts.
Today, most patients and providers come from religious communities that denounce homosexuality and encourage treatment for their members, Anderson said.
In a 2009 press release, the APA recommended affirmative therapies instead that would help patients “explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation … and consider the possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life.”
The APA’s resolution and report influenced states’ legislation, Anderson said.
Pennsylvania’s, New York’s and Maryland’s bills cite the APA’s Task Force and quote its 2009 resolution. Bills have also been introduced in Florida and Minnesota, though those bills do not directly cite the APA.
The Rhode Island bill is currently under review for language before it passes to the House, Satchell said.
“If it comes back and everything looks good, I would expect it to pass unanimously.”
— Camilla Brandfield-Harvey