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Op-Ed: Ban Conversion Therapy in Kentucky

The following op-ed is written by State Rep. Kim Banta (R-Ft. Mitchell).

Kentuckians are navigating unusual and trying times. We have all faced our share of obstacles during this crisis. Our shared obstacles and the way our communities have stood up to face adversity has shown why I firmly believe we are strong and have gifts that will help us-as well as others-to persevere. Afterall, this is the defining characteristic that defines what it means to be a Kentuckian. The last six months have highlighted the kind spirit ingrained in so many of us. We have cared for neighbors in need and supported struggling family members. Undoubtedly, there are issues we are facing during this crisis, from unemployment to education, that should be at the forefront of our minds. These issues will be considered in the upcoming legislative session. 

While we will not fail to address these issues, we also know that other issues will need to be addressed. I write today to highlight an area where we are unintentionally causing life-threatening harm. I am writing in support of preventing mental health providers in Kentucky from performing what is known as conversion “therapy” with children. Conversion therapy is a dangerous and universally discredited practice that attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation through the means of psychological and physical abuse that is often described to be torture.  

Specifically, I will be supporting the Mental Health Protection Act this spring. This bill focuses on exactly what the title implies: the mental health of our children. With the pressures on children under 18, the last thing we should do as adults is try to manipulate or change their sexuality through conversion therapy: a practice that uses a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic experiences, and physically painful stimuli to associate their sexuality with that pain. Currently, there are nearly 70 identified licensed therapists in Kentucky using this treatment: in Northern Kentucky alone, there are nine. Nearly 70 licensed therapists, and potentially more, using barbaric practices on our children. Therapists telling their under-aged patients that their sexuality is a mental disability that can be cured, rather than a unique and intrinsic part of them.   

Over 34 national professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, are strongly opposed to this form of treatment. In fact, they go further to state that conversion therapy causes more harm and, in many cases, has led to the patient committing suicide. According to the Courier-Journal, a 2019 national survey conducted by the Trevor Project, found that 42% of LGBTQ youth who underwent "conversion therapy" reported a suicide attempt in the past year, more than twice the rate of their LGBTQ peers who did not go through the practice.” There are 21 Kentucky Organizations opposed to this form of therapy - one of which is the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, which has 80+ member organizations.  

As a Republican, the Mental Health Protection Act has my full support because it deliberately protects the rights laid out in our constitution: including freedom of religion. The bill proposed specifically prevents only state-licensed providers from engaging in conversion therapy with minors. This bill does not restrict religious leaders from counseling youth and families on this subject. It does not criminalize, or even prevent, Christian pastors and other religious leaders from discussing the morality and church teachings surrounding same-sex attraction or gender identity. Nor would it prevent parents or guardians from having similar conversations with their kids or grandkids. What this bill does is protect families from predatory therapists who would seek financial gain with false hope. It protects the safety and well-being of Kentucky’s children.  

As a former principal, I know that adolescents struggle with so much in their lives. Shaming, blaming, or telling them they can change something that comes so naturally to them is proven to be emotionally and mentally harmful – especially when it comes in the guise of state-sanctioned medical advice. I have also read the personal accounts of kids who went through this legal form of child torture, these kids indicating they were physically and emotionally abused by people who take advantage of parents in a time of need. Just as it is our responsibility to help fellow Kentuckians get through the COVID-19 crisis, we have a responsibility to help struggling Kentucky kids through a much more personal and internal crisis of their own.