Four Democratic-led bills aim to ban mental health providers in Michigan from offering any therapy that attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity and expression of children.
LANSING—If state Reps. Felicia Brabec and Jason Hoskins can help stop just one child from facing the trauma of LGBTQ conversion therapy, their latest legislation will serve its purpose.
But with recent research that shows several thousand young Michiganders still being threatened with or subjected to the harmful and scientifically discredited form of pseudoscience, they think their recently introduced bills could play a much larger role in protecting kids across the state.
“This is all part of protecting the LGBTQ community here in Michigan,” Hoskins told The ‘Gander this week. “Ultimately, we want to be able to protect LGBTQ children and also get rid of the things that cause discrimination to flourish—and conversion therapy is one of those things.”
What is Conversion Therapy?
Conversion therapy, which has now been banned in 21 states, refers to any practice or treatment that attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity—including any efforts to eliminate sexual or romantic feelings toward someone of the same gender.
It’s an archaic, scientifically discredited, and dangerous practice that operates under the false notion that different sexual orientations and gender diversity are abnormal or unhealthy.
What’s the Problem?
Decades of research shows that conversion therapy simply doesn’t work—mainly because there’s no scientific way to use therapy to try to alter someone’s sexual orientation or identity.
But it isn’t harmless.
“This is a dangerous and discredited practice, just generally,” said Gwen Stembridge, advocacy campaign manager at The Trevor Project. “It is unsafe for Michiganders generally. We don’t want someone coming in and trying to implement a practice that will put people in danger.”
Studies have repeatedly shown strong associations between past experiences with LGBTQ conversion therapy and adverse health effects like anxiety and depression. Among younger participants, conversion therapy has also been shown to lead to a much higher likelihood of both substance abuse and suicide later in life.
The so-called “therapy” has been known to take many forms, from prayer and discussion, to more stomach-churning stories of electroshock therapy being used on gay men in the 70s—all under the premise of “curing” or “repairing” the “defect” of being an LGBTQ person.
“Talk therapy is still very harmful. There’s this idea that sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you—but we know that words are harmful for youth,” Stembridge said.
The American Psychiatric Association flatly rejected the concept of conversion therapy more than two decades ago, and 21 states have since enacted laws to restrict or ban the practice.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order in 2021 that banned all state and federal funding for conversion therapy on minors, labeling it as a “harmful” practice to have in Michigan.
Still, recent estimates from The Trevor Project show that up to 15% of Michigan’s LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13-24 (or about 10,000 Michiganders) were threatened with or subjected to the therapy last year.
Those who experienced the so-called “treatment” were more than twice as likely to report attempting suicide, and nearly three times as likely to report multiple attempts over the past year compared to those who weren’t subjected to LGBTQ conversion therapy.
Erin Knott, the executive director at Equality Michigan, told The ‘Gander that contextualizing the full scope of the problem in Michigan can be difficult—namely because those who provide the services aren’t necessarily advertising them on billboards, and survivors are often traumatized.
“This is a practice that is happening in the shadows, but if it’s happening to one LGBTQ youth, that’s too many,” Knott said. “Nobody should be subjected to the horrors of conversion therapy.”
What’s the Plan?
Several cities in Michigan have enacted their own local laws that prohibit conversion therapy for children—including East Lansing and Ann Arbor. And Democratic state lawmakers have been trying since at least 2016 to get a statewide conversion therapy ban on the books in Michigan.
Every bill to ban conversion therapy for minors, so far, has stalled in a committee—mostly under Republican leadership. But this year, with Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers, activists are confident there’s enough support in Lansing to finally get the ban passed into law.
“We have a duty to intervene and be able to protect our children from the harms that conversion therapy causes,” Hoskins said. “I don’t foresee any issues with this passing in the legislature.”
House Bills 4616 and 4617—which were introduced by Brabec and Hoskins last week and have since been referred to the House Committee on Health Policy—would outlaw in Michigan “any practice or treatment by a mental health professional” that seeks to change a minor’s “sexual orientation or gender identity,” including (but not limited to) any efforts to eliminate a child’s lesbian, gay, or bisexual feelings, or change their behavior as it relates to their gender identity.
Those who continue to provide the service could face misdemeanor criminal charges, and licensing sanctions—including the possibility of having their state license revoked altogether.
Brabec—a former Washtenaw County commissioner—was elected in November to her second term in the state House of Representatives. She’s also a practicing clinical psychologist with a master’s degree in clinical social work and over two decades of experience in the field.
“To be in a position now, not only as a psychologist but as a lawmaker, to actually stop this abhorrent practice, is something that I feel honored to do,” Brabec told The ‘Gander.
She added: “We know the devastating effects this so-called ‘therapy’ can have on people. We know the effects on suicide rates, depression, anxiety. Why wouldn’t we do something about it?”
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) has also submitted similar legislation in the form of Senate Bills 348 and 349. Both were referred to the Senate Committee on Housing and Human Services last week. Lawmakers expect to hold hearings on the bills over the coming months.
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