September 21, 2019
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Maine House strongly backs ban on conversion therapy

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford

A bill banning all forms of conversion therapy on minors won support Wednesday in the Maine House of Representatives, paving the way for its passage by the full Legislature about a year after former Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a similar proposal.

The bill from Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, who proposed the 2018 version that failed to muster enough votes to override LePage’s veto, broadly bars most medical professionals from using the controversial method of therapy on anyone younger than 18 and prohibits the use of MaineCare to pay for it.

Representatives voted 91-46 in favor, with all Democrats joining five independents and five Republicans — Reps. Patrick Corey of Windham, Ted Kryzak of Acton, Tom Martin of Greene, Dwayne Prescott of North Waterboro and Scott Strom of Pittsfield. It now moves to the Senate.

Rep. Norm Higgins, I-Dover-Foxcroft, a former Republican, opposed the bill last session. But after talking with a granddaughter in preparation for this bill, he realized he had erred.

“I don’t think she needs treatment. I don’t think she needs to be fixed. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her. When I hear people say, ‘Well, you know she’s confused,’ no she isn’t,” Higgins said. “Today, I’ll cast the vote in favor. It’s the vote I should’ve cast [a year] ago.”

Conversion therapy is a widely discredited method of counseling used to try to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Maine is the only state in New England not to have banned the practice for minors. At least 16 states have passed similar bans.

Wednesday’s floor debate on the bill lasted almost three hours, not counting a break for lunch. It echoed similar arguments for and against a conversion therapy ban made last year, but the tone was less acrimonious.

Republicans in the chamber took issue with the wide reach of the bill, claiming it violates free speech and infringes on parents’ rights to choose what’s best for their children. Opponents said while they find physically or emotionally abusive tactics to try and convert any LGBTQ youth is unacceptable, the bill overreaches in banning non-neutral “talk therapy.”

“What audacity, what arrogance” do lawmakers think they have, Rep. Roger Reed, R-Carmel, said, “to dictate to professional counselors what they can and cannot say to their clients behind closed doors, and to threaten their loss of license?”

Instead, many Republicans supported an amendment to Fecteau’s bill that was rejected 91-45. It mirrored a bill from Rep. Susan Austin, R-Gray, that only bans “aversive” methods of counseling or treatment used to change one’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Under Austin’s bill and the amendment from Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, “aversive” is defined as “any practice or treatment that is intended to induce changes in behavior through unpleasant stimuli or punishment,” including “the use of seclusion, isolation, ice baths or physical restraint.”

But Fecteau bill co-sponsor Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, said it’s necessary to widely ban any variation of the practice, all of which are “abusive, unethical and oppressive.”

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