On the same day that President Barack Obama issued a public statement calling for an end to gay conversion therapy — the widely debunked approach to psychologically stripping people of their homosexual tendencies — a bill to ban the practice in Colorado for those under age eighteen died in a state Senate committee on a party line vote in which three Republicans opposed the measure.
One of them, Senator Owen Hill, representing Colorado Springs, explained in an e-mail to supporters obtained by the Denver Post that he'd voted "no" in part because "I am hesitant to use the heavy hand of government to take away the dignity of choice in cases where individuals want this therapy."
The Colorado Senate Democrats blasted the vote in a release that points out how little support gay conversion therapy has in the medical community.
"Every mainstream mental health group in the state, including the Colorado Psychological Association, Mental Health America- Colorado, and the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado supported HB 15-1175," the release points out. "Other supporters included the American College of Pediatrics- Colorado Chapter, Colorado Children’s Hospital, and One Colorado."
Nationally, the latest effort to ban gay conversion therapy is connected to the terrible story of Leelah Alcorn, which is shorthanded at the top of a WhiteHouse.gov petition that has gathered more than 120,000 signatures at this reading. The introduction reads:
On Sunday, December 27, 2014, Leelah Alcorn a 17 year old transgender youth wrote a suicide note, posted it on Tumblr and then walked in front of a semi-truck tragically ending her life. Leelah explained how her parents had forced her to attend conversion therapy, pulled her out of school and isolated her in an attempt to change her gender identity. 'Conversion therapies' have been documented to cause great harms and in this case, Leelah's death. Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child's gender identity or sexual orientation are seriously unethical and legislation is needed to end such practices that are resulting in LGBTQ+ deaths. We respectfully seek your help to ban the practice known as 'conversion therapy' and name the bill in honor of Leelah Alcorn.
Yesterday, the official White House response to the petition begins with this quote from President Obama:
“Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let's say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he's held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”
The release goes on to state: "As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."
House Bill 15-1175 also made age a key part of its provisions. The entire document, sponsored by state Senator Paul Rosenthal, is on view below, but here's its summary:
The bill prohibits a licensed physician specializing in psychiatry and a licensed or registered mental health care provider from engaging in conversion therapy with a patient under 18 years of age.
A licensee who engages in these efforts is subject to disciplinary action by the appropriate licensing board.
"Conversion therapy" means efforts that seek to change an individual's sexual orientation, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attraction or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.
In the end, however, only the two Democrats on the Senate's Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted in favor of the measure: senators Pat Steadman and Andy Kerr.
They were opposed by the committee's three Republicans: senators Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, Ray Scott from Grand Junction and Hill.
Thus far, Sonnenberg hasn't posted anything about the vote on his Facebook or Twitter accounts.
For his part, Scott tweeted and Facebooked the link to the Post story, with one supporter praising him for his stand. The constituent wrote: "Thank you, Ray! Apparently, Sen Pat Steadman and his friend, Rep Dan Thurlow (who voted for this tyrannical bill in committee), thinks it's okay for minors to engage in risky gay behaviors, but it's not okay for them or their parents to seek therapy for the behavior. It's one of the religious freedom issues. I appreciate your vote, Ray."
Hill went into greater detail. Here's the aforementioned e-mail:
This afternoon, the Senate State Affairs committee voted 3-2 to kill House Bill 1175, a bill that would have limited a minor’s access to conversion therapy.
I was one of the “no” votes on this bill as I am hesitant to use the heavy hand of government to take away the dignity of choice in cases where individuals want this therapy.
The rule of law is integral to an ordered society, and an important aspect of an ordered society is maintaining an individual’s ability to make choices about what is important to them.
Contrary voices may argue that it is the responsibility of government to mitigate the possibility of risk from our lives, from seatbelt laws to drinking age laws to micro beads in cosmetics. However, we must consider the other position, which says human dignity is upheld by allowing individuals to choose.
Additionally, I was unconvinced about the need for legislation on what can be an internally moderated practice, as we heard testimony from psychological organizations that are free to set their own ethical standards of practice.
While I am deeply saddened for the individuals who shared testimony of negative experiences with conversion therapy, my position as a legislator is first and foremost that individual liberties should be preserved, and it is not the place of the government to limit a therapy choice.
Thank you to everyone who has expressed their views on this, and other legislation this session. I appreciate the dialogue and hearing from so many people!
Rosenthal was much more succinct about his views in this tweet after the vote:
The death of HB 15-1175 won't be the end of efforts to ban gay conversion therapy for young people in Colorado — and expect gay conversion therapy to become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.
If Republican presidential candidates turn against it — and it's certainly a topic capable of alienating plenty of voters, no matter their sexual orientation — there's a good chance GOP legislators on the state and local levels will follow suit. If not, we could see more Colorado Republicans deciding that therapy rejected as either ineffective or hurtful by pretty much every credible medical source should be allowed in order to maintain "the dignity of choice."
Here's the bill.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.