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Republican lawmakers across the country are considering conversion therapy bills. Photo: Erik McGregor/Getty Images

Anti-trans legislation hits a new low: Conversion Therapy

An invitation to all lawmakers standing behind bills across the nation to call it what it is they’re trying to do.

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2021 is a tumultuous year for the LGBTQ community, particularly for trans and gender-nonconforming people. Widely oppressive legislation has been saturating numerous state legislatures.

It is largely the efforts of Republicans casually returning to their habitual strategy of dehumanizing minority groups to mobilize their base following recent election losses.

There are more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills currently under review by state legislatures, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Even more distressing, many of these bills are deliberately meant to restrict the rights of transgender children, increasing their already high risk for mental health issues and dying by suicide.

According to HRC, transgender youth are four times more likely to experience depression. The data also shows that transgender students who are denied access to gender-appropriate facilities on college campuses were 45% more likely to attempt suicide.

Many of the bills circulating around legislatures in Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina, seek to ban trans youth from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity, as well as ban them from receiving gender-affirming medical care, even with parental consent.

Based on a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics, transgender children who do receive gender-affirming medical care earlier in their lives are less likely to experience mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Arkansas’ House legislature recently passed a bill that would bar trans minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care, including surgery, as well as criminalize the act of doing so for medical providers.

On Monday, April 5, Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill, calling it a “vast government overreach,” and a product of the “cultural war in America.” Unfortunately though, as Hutchinson suspected, the state’s House voted to override his veto.

According to a tweet from Chase Strangio, a prominent trans advocate and Deputy Director for Transgender Justice with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, doctors plan to inform Arkansas lawmakers by phone each time a trans child is hurt or lost their life as a result of the bill. 

Aside from the bills regarding sports and medical care, Republicans in North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona have started to quietly push a new category of anti-LGBTQ bills: one that protects so-called conversion therapy. 

Conversion therapy attempts to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This move is unnerving to LGBTQ advocates, who say it is an unprecedented new tactic on behalf of right-wing legislators. 

Mathew Shurka, a survivor of conversion therapy and co-founder of NCLR’s Born Perfect campaign, said that this is the first time that any pro-conversion therapy laws have been introduced. 

Out of all the bills under consideration right now, Arizona’s is the most serious threat. A state House committee already approved SB 1269 in late March, and it seeks to bar local governments from banning conversion therapy. 

The legislation deviously refrains from using the words “conversion therapy,” or its other names, “change” or “reparative” therapy. It simply states that local governments cannot “enact any measure directing the professional conduct of a healthcare professional.” 

If this bill becomes law, it would immediately overturn an ordinance in Pima County  ― the state’s second-largest county ― that prohibits conversion therapy.  

Supporters of the bill, led by sponsor Sen. Vincent Leach, have been cautiously avoiding using the terminology. During a committee hearing, Leach even claimed to know “nothing about conversion therapy,” which is not something any trans person wants to hear from an elected leader in control of their fate. 

Conversion therapy, similar to a lack of access to gender-affirming medical treatment, can be deadly for many transgender children. 

Last year, The Trevor Project conducted a survey on LGBTQ youth mental health, finding that young people who underwent “conversion therapy had higher rates of suicide attempts than their peers,” who are also extremely vulnerable.

The practice of conversion therapy derives from the once accepted — but now thoroughly discredited — belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder that has the potential to be cured. No scientific evidence exists to back up this claim, and multiple major medical associations, including the American Psychological Association, oppose the practice. 

Twenty states as well as D.C have banned conversion therapy for minors, and the movement to end the practice has grown over the past few years. But it has not gone away, and now, it could be protected by state laws. 

“It’s 20 steps forward, and then now how many steps back will it be before we actually realize what’s happening?” said Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government at The Trevor Project. 

Morgan Allen, center director of the OKEQ health clinic in Tulsa, Oklahoma is particularly concerned about these bills, and the damage of this type of “therapy” — especially the religious implications. 

“Parents are going in good faith to their spiritual advisers and saying, ‘My child says this and I’m scared.’ And instead of hearing that God’s creation is never wrong, there’s nothing wrong with your child, they are hearing, ‘This is a sin and you need to change, and here are the options for how to change,’” she said. 

“How brave and wonderful would it be if [spiritual leaders] just told children ... that God, the divine, loves you as you are? And they created you,” Allen said.

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