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Op-Ed: Conversion Therapy Ban Delayed, Ky. Kids are Being Tortured

The following op-ed is written by Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville), Rep. Kim Banta (R-Ft. Mitchell), Senator Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington), Senator Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville).

This past August, we heard the story of Zach Meiners, a survivor of conversion therapy living right here in Louisville. Zach bravely testified against his own conversion “therapist” at the interim hearing of the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. Sitting in front of a legislative committee in Frankfort, Zach told us how his therapist said that he “couldn’t be loved.” He described being publicly shamed and methodically taught to hate himself as part of his treatment. His testimony as a conversion “therapy” survivor in Kentucky reaffirmed what healthcare and mental health professionals have been saying for years. Zach’s personal story showed that the long-term effects of conversion therapy are real and damaging. He described chronic depression and anxiety, being disconnected from his own sexuality and body, not being able to trust himself or others, and seriously considering suicide. When asked why he believes the Youth Mental Health Protection Act needs to be passed, he responded: “so that no more youth will have to bear the pain and trauma that conversion therapy causes.”

As legislators, our first and foremost goal is to serve the best interests of the people of Kentucky, including protecting young Kentuckians from harm. Despite unprecedented times and deeply divisive partisan politics, the urgency of the issue of conversion therapy has brought the four of us together: a Democratic Representative from Louisville, a Republican Representative from Fort Mitchell, a Republican Senator from Lexington, and a Democratic Senator from Louisville. Dozens of other legislators from both parties have committed to join us in fighting for Kentucky youth by banning conversion therapy.

So-called conversion “therapy” is an assortment of dangerous and discredited practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Every major health provider organization in the U.S. agrees that these practices are dangerous. After hearing from dozens of survivors about the barbaric practices they’ve been subjected to, we’re going to call conversion “therapy” what it truly is: torture. We don’t make this assertion lightly; we mean it quite literally.

There is no evidence that these practices work. Peer-reviewed studies show that 63% of young people subjected to these practices attempt suicide, compared to just 22% of LGBTQ+ youth not exposed to sexual orientation change efforts

The numbers are staggering. Of the 350,000 minors exposed to these practices, statistics indicate that over 220,000 have attempted suicide. Conversion “therapy” is deadly, and we must stop it. That’s why we filed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. House Bill 19 and Senate Bill 30 would prohibit licensed mental health professionals from engaging in conversion “therapy” with a person under eighteen years of age. The state restricts licensed health providers from engaging in other harmful practices. These practices must be restricted as well.

This is not a partisan issue; it is a safety issue for young Kentuckians.

Kentuckians agree. Recent statewide polling shows that 74% of respondents oppose the use of conversion “therapy” on minors; 61% of those same respondents voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 general election.

Each day that we wait to pass the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, young Kentuckians are subjected to shame, guilt, depression, dehumanization, increased risk of substance abuse, alienation from faith, suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides. It is past time for legislative leaders to step up and protect Kentucky’s youth by giving HB 19 and SB 30 fair hearings and bringing them to a vote on the Floors of the legislative chambers.

We cannot wait to take action for another attempted or completed suicide. 2021 marks the fifth year the Youth Mental Health Protection Act has been filed in the General Assembly. With a mountain of scientific evidence and the vast majority of Kentuckians supporting this legislation, it is time to take action.

For every child that we lose, for every life that is damaged, these tragedies are on the hands of the General Assembly for failing to do their duty and act now. We must respond with the urgency this crisis demands. We must pass legislation immediately to end the discredited and deadly practice of conversion “therapy” in Kentucky.

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