Maine may soon be the only state in New England that allows the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, which is based on a damaging premise that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a defect that needs to be fixed.
A bill to ban the practice was easily passed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives last week. It is expected to pass the state Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker said he’s “ inclined” to sign it. That would leave Maine as the only state without a ban.
Maine lawmakers passed a bill to ban conversion therapy last year, but then-Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it. He is the only governor in the country to veto a bill banning conversion therapy. His veto was upheld.
The Maine Legislature has an opportunity to right this wrong. Rep. Ryan Fecteau, who has shared his own heartrenching story involving conversion therapy, has again introduced legislation to ban its use on minors by counselors, doctors, psychologists and others who need a state license to practice. It also prohibits MaineCare reimbursements for the practice. Fecteau’s bill has bipartisan support and the backing of nearly the entire House Democratic caucus.
Given that Democrats now control the Maine House and Senate, and that Gov. Janet Mills has long supported LGBTQ rights and equality, the prospects for Fecteau’s bill seem bright.
But, as with last year’s debate, expect opponents to sow fear and doubt with exaggerated claims that the bill would bar counselors from reporting child abuse or would intrude on family matters.
So-called gay conversion therapy, or reparative therapy, doesn’t work. Worse, it often leads to shame, depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide among those its practitioners seek to “convert.”
LGBTQ youth are already vulnerable to family rejection and experience homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers.
“The essence of therapy is to create a safe place to allow someone to gain understanding, promote growth and build resilience. Conversion techniques take over the safety and turns therapy into a form of emotional abuse,” Brandy Brown, coordinator of the Gender Clinic at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, told lawmakers last year in her testimony supporting LD 912, the bill vetoed by LePage. “Incredible damage is done.”
Conversion therapy has been condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers, among other medical groups. In 2014, the American Association of Christian Counselors changed its code of ethics to eliminate approval of conversion therapy.
“Reviews of the peer-reviewed literature from multiple professional organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, have found no evidence that conversion therapy treatments result in changes in sexual orientation,” a study, published in the Journal of Medical Regulation in 2016, concluded. “There is evidence, however, suggesting these treatments are harmful,” the researchers added.
Given the ineffectiveness of such therapies — and their high potential for harm — these treatments should not be used on children, who cannot consent to their use.
That’s why lawmakers should pass LD 1025 and bring an end to the use of conversion therapy in Maine.