In Banning Conversion Therapy, Connecticut and Rhode island Step Up to Truly Affirm LGBTQ Youth

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signs the conversion therapy ban into law
GLAD and our partners in Connecticut and Rhode Island celebrated important wins for LGBTQ youth this year. With overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, An Act Concerning the Protection of Youth From Conversion Therapy was signed into law by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy in May. And in August, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed the conversion therapy ban bill surrounded by supportive legislators, community organizers, and coalition members. “We are thrilled at the overwhelming level of support in the legislature,” says Robin McHaelen, Executive Director at True Colors, Inc. in Hartford. “The state of Connecticut sent a strong message to LGBTQ youth that there’s nothing wrong with who they are, and that is huge.” That message is a fundamental starting place for creating a world where LGBTQ youth are supported and affirmed at every step. The passage of Connecticut’s conversion therapy ban was an inspiring and energizing win for the CT Equality Coalition, which worked together closely in the months leading up to the vote. “We had a really strong group of people behind this bill” says Anne Stanback, one of the primary volunteer organizers in the coalition, In addition to GLAD and True Colors, that included Planned Parenthood, who were instrumental in organizing both online and on-the-ground, the Connecticut affiliate of the National Association of Social Workers, the CT TransAdvocacy Coalition, CWEALF, and the Connecticut ACLU. “Importantly,” adds Stanback, “we also had a group of supportive clergy – close to 200 people – who were there to answer any religious opposition.” Despite being discredited as harmful, unethical, and ineffective by all major medical and mental health organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, conversion therapy is still practiced in the U.S. All one need needs to do to see how true that is, is to attend a public hearing on a bill to ban the practice, as happened in Connecticut this spring. LGBTQ youth are especially at risk of harm and may be subjected to the practice by well-meaning families who are unfamiliar with its dangers, or by families who are simply unaccepting of who they are. “Vulnerable LGBTQ youth risk growing up in a society in which the seriousness and legitimacy of their sexual orientation and gender identity is in question,” adds Levi. “Conversion therapy tells youth that they are not okay as they are – and that has a predictable outcome: despair, self-harm and sometimes, suicide.” Banning conversion therapy is simply sound public health policy. Being LGBTQ is not what puts youth at risk. It is the anti-LGBTQ beliefs underlying attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity that are the real cause of that harm. In barring the practice, Connecticut is sending a powerful message to LGBTQ youth that they are ok, and that they are valued for who they are. The Connecticut legislative efforts was part of a growing movement across the country to ban state-licensed mental health professionals from employing the unethical practice. Connecticut became the eighth state to prohibit conversion therapy with LGBTQ youth, joining Vermont, California, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Illinois, and New Mexico, Rhode Island, as well as Washington, D.C. Nevada passed a bill shortly after Connecticut. GLAD is committed to working on this issue throughout the 6 New England states. In Massachusetts, GLAD senior attorney Ben Klein presented testimony at a public hearing in early June in support of “An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors.” Similar bills are also being considered in Maine and New Hampshire.
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signs the conversion therapy ban bill into law
Meanwhile, the CT Equality Coalition is readying itself for the next push to make the state more welcoming and affirming “We intend to keep the momentum going,” Stanback says. “As we look ahead, we hope to leverage this crucial win to gain support for future work aimed at protecting LGBTQ youth.” The growing movement to affirm and celebrate LGBTQ youth – to say that being LGBTQ is beautiful – has the power to create transformational change.