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Op-Ed: Ky. Lawmakers Should Pass Youth Mental Health Protection Act

The following op-ed is written by Tanner Mobley, executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky

During the 2021 Session, our elected leaders face a daunting array of issues. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, economic insecurity, the continued fight for racial justice, and the separation of state powers are all areas that have deeply divided both legislators and citizens alike across our Commonwealth. While we have a responsibility to address these issues, other crises demand immediate and common-sense solutions to improve the lives of our most vulnerable Kentuckians. A ban on conversion therapy is an issue that the General Assembly can pass during this upcoming session that has bipartisan support and will immediately save lives in Kentucky.

The Youth Mental Health Protection Act to protect minors from so-called “conversion therapy,” has gained the support of legislators and Kentuckians from across both the ideological spectrum and the state. Conversion therapy is not really a therapy, but a widely dangerous and discredited practice aimed at “changing” a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity with physical, emotional, or psychological harm. So, I’m going to call conversion “therapy” what it truly is, torture. The bill protects young people from state-licensed therapists in Kentucky who intentionally prey on vulnerable parents and youth. People trust these therapists to do what is right for their children. When in actuality, conversion therapists are exposing kids to practices that are proven to cause lifelong psychological harm. 

Those who engage in the practice of conversion torture will subject children to rejection, shame, and psychological abuse to force young people to try and change who they are. It is scientifically proven to be extremely dangerous and can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, and even suicide. As a professional that works with college students, I know that young people 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. 

The bill to ban conversion therapy is uniquely Kentucky. By balancing two important ideals within our state, the bill ensures that parents and children are not subject to a form of fraud, while also respecting the sincerely held belief of others and their religious liberty. The bill does not prevent anyone from publishing, discussing, or advocating any viewpoints or beliefs regarding sexual orientation or related perspectives. Nor does the bill encroach on religious freedom. The bill only regulates professional therapy, a form of medical treatment that is already highly regulated to protect the public’s health and safety. There is a common expectation for the state to regulate potentially dangerous medical treatments. I would not support a bill that stepped on any Commonwealth's citizens' first amendment rights, and I know that legislators wouldn’t either. The strong bipartisan support this bill has received is a testament to the effective, constitutional language that will have the impact of saving children’s lives and saving many parents from having to bury a child.

Legislators on all sides should agree that an illegitimate practice resulting in harm to our children is unacceptable and should be prohibited. Studies have shown that an estimated 350,000 youth in the U.S have undergone conversion torture at some point in their lives. Furthermore, studies have shown that an estimated 48% of adolescents who have undergone conversion torture will attempt suicide. This practice is killing our youth and cannot continue. 

I believe that despite our differences everyone in our legislature agrees we must come together to protect our children. In this time of division, we can pass a bill that will save the lives of our youth while still protecting the important first amendment rights that are foundational to this country. A ban on conversion therapy isn’t partisan. It merely seeks to protect the lives of our children, one of the most essential jobs our legislators are tasked with. I call on our legislators to do the right thing; protect vulnerable minors and pass the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. In a time of deep divisiveness, we can come together not as Republicans and Democrats but as Kentuckians, and save the lives of our kids.

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