Lawmakers Consider Bill to Ban 'Conversion Therapy'

Feb 14, 2018

Maine lawmakers are considering a bill to ban “conversion therapy” for minors.

Supporters of the legislation want to ban treatments intended to change an individual's sexual orientation, commonly known as “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy,” while they are under 18 years of age. The measure was the subject of a public hearing held Wednesday morning.

Biddeford Rep. Ryan Fecteau, a Democrat who is openly gay, is the chief sponsor of the bill. Fecteau told fellow members of the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee that professionals licensed by the state should not be allowed to use therapies that are opposed by a wide range of medical professional groups. He shared the example of a college administrator who urged a student to read a book aimed at convincing him there was something wrong with his sexual orientation. Fecteau said the experience caused the young man deep, emotional turmoil.

“I know this story well, because that young man was me,” says Fecteau. “This is my story. It’s a story I spent a long time denying. There is nothing more painstaking than to admit you contemplated suicide.”

Several other young gay men testified about similar attempts in which others tried to convince them that they were suffering from some sort of mental illness because of their sexual orientation.

“There are many major medical associations and professional organizations that have found no scientific validity for conversion therapy and that neither sexual orientation nor gender identity can be made to change,” says Bonauto, a lawyer and civil rights activist. Bonauto says not only are the therapies harmful, but there is no scientific basis for them.

There was also testimony in opposition to the proposal, including some on religious grounds, even though the measure would exempt counseling efforts by clergy. In addition, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist who operates the Breakthrough Clinics in several California and New York locations, says the bill is poorly written.

“It says I can only address situations that involve unlawful conduct, you find that right in the middle of paragraph three,” says Nicolosi. “It makes no mention of being able to treat the problem, however. Addressing and treating are two very different things.” Nicolosi is nationally-known advocate for use of the therapy.

Other opponents argued there are specific situations in which, for example, a teenager who has been abused could benefit from conversion therapy. Supporters rejected that argument, saying it is based on anecdotes, not science.