DOVER - Joined on the steps of Legislative Hall by LGBTQ advocates, parents, and fellow legislators, Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington North, announced the introduction of Senate Bill 65, legislation that would ban so-called “conversion therapy,” a dangerous and widely discredited set of treatments meant to coerce individuals into changing their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Conversion therapy is pseudoscience, full stop,” said Sen. McDowell. “The notion that differences in sexual orientation and gender identity are diseases that should be cured—or, for that matter, that they can be changed at all—is completely devoid of any basis in fact and causes immeasurable harm to kids who, more than anything, need love and support. Current law makes Delaware a tacit partner in these practices by enabling them under our professional licensing standards, and it’s long past time that we changed that.”
Conversion therapy has been banned in seven states (California, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Vermont), the District of Columbia, and several cities and counties across the country. Those bans have been upheld multiple times by federal courts.
"The American Psychological Association has linked conversion therapy to depression, substance abuse and even suicide, and these risks are particularly acute for youth," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Youth Policy Counsel and Born Perfect Campaign Coordinator Carolyn Reyes. "As the First State, Delaware is used to leading the country. Passing this legislation would add Delaware to a growing number of states that are leading the country by speaking out and taking a stand against these harmful and fraudulent practices.”
SB 65 would specifically ban licensed medical professionals and nurses, mental health and chemical dependency professionals, psychologists, clinical social workers, and the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families from performing conversion therapy or referring clients to conversion therapy programs. Further, it would prohibit in-state medical professionals from referring minors to out-of-state conversion therapy programs, and would ban out-of-state psychologists from engaging in conversion therapy with Delaware minors.
“Conversion therapy is a long-discredited, dehumanizing practice that has no place in Delaware,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, the lead sponsor in the House. “While many of us know that it’s a sham, we can’t allow the possibility that someone could try to use it here. The LGBTQ community is a vital and vibrant part of our fabric, and we need to stand with them in one strong voice, and that starts with banning conversion therapy in Delaware.”
As recently as the 1980s, conversion therapy programs entailed severe practices ranging from electroshock treatment to lobotomies. While modern conversion therapy programs rely on less extreme psychological and spiritual methods (e.g., shaming, peer pressure, celibacy, and even exorcisms), they are still bereft of any scientific backing.
There is ample evidence, however, of the harmful impact to LGBTQ youth caused by the societal prejudice and alienation that underpin conversion therapy.
Data from the Human Rights Campaign shows that LGBTQ youth who experience rejection from their parents and caregivers—including enrollment in conversion therapy programs—were more than three times more likely than highly-accepted LGBTQ peers to use illegal drugs; more than three times as likely to be at a high risk for HIV and STDs; nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression; and more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide.
“For young people across the state SB 65 provides vital and potentially life-saving protections from the damaging and dangerous and discredited practice known as conversion therapy,” said Sarah McBride, a trans woman and Delawarean who serves as the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. “Regardless of where you stand on other issues of LGBTQ equality, this is a commonsense proposal based on science, fact and basic human decency. I want to thank MC and DH for their leadership in making sure DE joins a growing number of states that protect young people from this fraudulent and harmful treatment.”
Conversion therapy is part of a larger issue of understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ youth.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 40 percent of LGBTQ youth say that their community is not accepting of LGBTQ people and 26 percent say that their biggest problem is a lack of acceptance from their family. Those conditions have led to tragic outcomes for countless LGBTQ youth:
Conversion therapy has been roundly rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health group, including: the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American College of Physicians, the American School Counselor Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the Pan American Health Organization.
“The bottom line is that conversion therapy does not work, and can in fact be harmful,” said Dr. Steve Eichel, Chair of the Psychology and Law Committee of the Delaware Psychological Association. “Research has clearly demonstrated that social or familial rejection of a child's sexual or gender orientation is a leading cause of self-harm and suicide among children and adolescents struggling with accepting their sexuality. By viewing homosexuality as an aberration that must be ‘cured,’ conversion therapy contributes to that shaming and humiliating social environment. Conversion therapy is quite literally a form of organized bullying under the guise of a pseudoscientific ‘medical’ treatment. Many adults who have voluntarily subjected themselves to this process have, in addition to failing to change their sexual orientation, suffered deep shame and humiliation as a result.”
Equality Delaware, the ACLU of Delaware, Camp Rehoboth, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have all endorsed SB 65.
SB 65 is also cosponsored by Sens. Henry, Townsend, and Sokola, and Reps. Baumbach, Bentz, Keeley, Kowalko, Osienski, Ramone, and Smith. A committee hearing is expected next month.