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Minnesota lawmakers rekindle conversation about banning conversion therapy

A House panel on Wednesday moved forward a proposal to prohibit mental health providers from providing the therapy to minors or to vulnerable adults.

Rep. Athena Hollins - conversion therapy ban
Minnesota Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, speaks to members of the House Preventative Health Policy Division during a virtual committee hearing.
Screenshot from virtual hearing
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday, March 2, rekindled a debate at the Capitol over banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors and vulnerable adults.

The House Preventive Health Policy Division on a 7-4 vote advanced the proposal to another House committee after people who've gone through the therapy likened it to torture and practitioners said a prohibition could limit their First Amendment rights and limit options for Minnesotans.

Conversion therapy is a form of intervention in which a practitioner attempts to change a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation . According to the American Medical Association , the practice can result in "significant psychological distress," depression, anxiety, self-blame, lowered self-esteem, sexual dysfunction and more, and LGBTQ are particularly vulnerable.

More than 20 states have outlawed the practice and dozens of local governments have prohibited it, including several in Minnesota. Meanwhile, lawmakers in South Dakota and several other states this year have considered and passed legislation aimed at preventing transgender students from participating in sports and other activities.

The Minnesota House of Representatives in 2021 passed a bill prohibiting mental health practitioners from providing conversion therapy for minors and vulnerable adults but the Minnesota Senate opted not to take up the measure for a vote. The bill's supporters, including faith leaders, physicians, mental health professionals, LBGTQ people who'd experienced the therapy and advocates, said Minnesota should take the step to ban the therapy for minors and vulnerable adults this year.

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"Let me be very clear, conversion therapy is not a therapy at all, it's been denounced by every mainstream medical and mental health association," the bill's author Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, said. "We must move past the idea that queer people can move past their sexual and gender identity and let them show up in their authentic self."

Aubrey Dobson asked the panel to prohibit the practice and told the panel that her parents had her removed from their home in 2009 and sent her to months of conversion therapy that caused lasting trauma.

"I can tell you definitively, as I'm married to a wonderful woman named Kate, that that therapy was not successful but did result in 13 years of actual talk therapy to recover from the torture I received as a child," Dobson said.

Therapists and faith leaders who administer the conversion interventions said outlawing the services would restrict providers' First Amendment rights and could prevent some young people from accessing therapy.

"This bill is a wicked attempt to protect the LGBTQ indoctrination of children in schools," said Daren Mehl, associate director at Agape First Ministries. "There is an unconstitutional religious jihad going on by the LGBT lobby. They're pushing lies and they know and you know that it's unconstitutional, these laws being passed across this country."

The bill would have to advance through both legislative chambers and be signed into law by the governor before it could take effect.

Gov. Tim Walz in 2021 signed an executive order that blocked the Minnesota Department of Human Services from paying providers for conversion therapy services through state health care programs like Medicaid. Walz also called on the department to write a report on the public health impacts of conversion therapy, and request statements from health maintenance organizations and insurance companies attesting that they will not cover conversion therapy. The governor has voiced support for a fuller ban on the therapy and urged lawmakers to approve the legislation last summer.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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