Michigan becomes 22nd state to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ youth ⋆

Editor’s note: This story contains mentions of suicide

A ban on conversion therapy for minors was signed into law in Michigan Wednesday in the latest development of the new Democratic-led state Legislature’s push for LGBTQ+ rights in Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a news release Wednesday that as the mother of a gay daughter, she is grateful to have the opportunity to make the state a more welcoming place to live for everyone’s children.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers a keynote address at the Mackinac Policy Conference on June 1, 2023. (Andrew Roth/)

“Today, we are banning the horrific practice of conversion therapy in Michigan and ensuring this is a state where you can be who you are,” Whitmer said. “Let’s continue working together to ensure anyone can ‘make it’ in Michigan, expand fundamental freedoms, and fight back against any and all forms of discrimination.”  

The legislation, HB 4616 and HB 4617, effectively bars mental health professionals from seeking to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or risk facing disciplinary action that could result in the loss of their professional licenses.

The legislation does not prohibit the practice of gender-affirming care or support during exploration of gender or sexuality or counseling to prevent unsafe relationship practices.

There is no evidence that conversion therapy works, but there is evidence that shows it is dangerous to children, bill sponsor Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.), who is also a clinical psychologist, said in the news release from the governor’s office and in her testimony on the House floor in June.

“I am acutely aware that kids need to be free to express themselves without the fear or threat of damaging pseudo-psychology like conversion therapy. With the support of several mental health organizations throughout our state and nation, I can confidently say that this law will help to ensure that therapists like myself continue to do no harm in our practices, while protecting the LGBTQ youth in our state,” Brabec said.

Proponents of banning conversion therapy say legislation like what’s being implemented in Michigan prevents suicide.

When Whitmer signed an executive order in 2021 banning the use of state and federal funds being used for conversion therapy on minors, the Trevor Project, a non-profit group working to create a safer environment for LGBTQ+ kids, applauded the action. The Trevor Project added at the time that a 2020 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who experienced conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the last year than their peers who hadn’t been in conversion therapy.

Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, which works to reach out and advocate for LGBTQ+ Michiganders, said, “today is a good day” because the ban is a win for Michigan against the “torture” of conversion therapy.

‘The practice is inherently discriminatory, they are cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments that, depending on the severity, physical or mental pain, the suffering inflicted on a victim oftentimes amounts to torture,” Knott said. “This is just one step in terms of mitigating torture and trauma to our kids as well as letting them know or giving them a signal that they are loved and supported and valued as they are, there’s no need to attempt to change them for who they are or how they identify.”

The ban is part of several LGBTQ+ rights measures considered this term after Democrats have the majority in both chambers in the state legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years. The state’s 1976 civil rights laws got an update in March when Whitmer signed into law legislation to extend protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation

Michigan Senate gives final OK to ‘suicide prevention’ legislation banning conversion therapy

Currently, expansions to the state’s hate crime laws, which would add protections for abuses suffered by individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are making their way through the Legislature.

The legislation signed Wednesday creates penalties for licensed mental health professionals, but doesn’t address unlicensed professionals who perform conversion therapy, including religious leaders providing conversion therapy with no mental health care licensure.

However, Brenden Bell, care manager at Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center in Ferndale said in his experience, both being in religious ex-gay support groups in the past and in working with individuals at Affirmations, many conversion therapy efforts by religious organizations are led by licensed mental health professionals. So while the legislation may not have the teeth some advocates may hope for, Bell said the legislation does work towards cultural acceptance of the queer community in Michigan.

“I’m just feeling a sense of relief that at least from a cultural perspective we’re starting to recognize and take seriously how harmful this is to people. … We have a lot more work to do in terms of queer rights…but I feel like this is an important step and I feel relieved that this is something we can all finally agree is unequivocally bad and abusive,” Bell said.

But the ban is not supported unequivocally, as all Republican representatives in the House voted against the bills and all but one Republican senator rejected them in the Senate.

Rep. Nancy De Boer (R-Holland), along with several of her Republican colleagues gave similar no vote explanations, saying the bills limit conversations mental health care providers can have with patients and interfere with family conversations.

“I voted to put families over vague mandates and radical political agendas,” De Boer said. “Parents in consultation with qualified medical professionals are better qualified to make important decisions regarding their child’s development, not politicians in Lansing.” 

Knott said conversion therapy can actually drive a wedge between kids and their parents, dismantling trust.

Rep. Jason Hoskins speaks at a bill signing ceremony for Senate Bill 4, which expands the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for the LGBTQ+ community, on March 16, 2023. (Andrew Roth/)

“Conversion therapy is based on this myth that being LGBTQ+ is caused by bad parenting or childhood abuse,” Knott said. “For the kids that are subjected to conversion therapy, the biggest issue that they experience is shame, self-harm and suicide and no child deserves that kind of trauma. They do not deserve to be a trauma survivor when they’re just a kid.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Jason Hoskins (D-Southfield), said the LGBTQ+ community has endured enough under obstacles to acceptance like conversion therapy.

“Today marks a significant step forward as we bid farewell to a harmful and deceitful practice that has inflicted considerable harm upon the LGBTQ+ community since its inception,” Hoskins said in the news release. “With this legislation, we are creating a safer environment for Michigan’s children. It is a powerful message of love, hope, and acceptance, paving the way for brighter days ahead.” 

authored by Anna Liz Nichols
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F07%2F26%2Fmichigan-becomes-22nd-state-to-ban-conversion-therapy-for-lgbtq-youth%2F

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