Michigan May Ban Gay Conversion Therapy For Minors
Proposed legislation could prevent health professionals from attempting to alter the sexual orientation of any minor in Michigan. Supporters say there is no evidence to support the counter-position - that gay conversion therapy for minors is safe or effective - and that the legislation is a "no-brainer."
"LANSING, MI -- Patrick McAlvey spent nine years in therapy trying to change his sexual orientation.
He's spent the past nine years trying to recover from the failed process.
[']The focus of my life was trying to figure out how to change,['] said McAlvey, who is gay and began so-called conversation therapy in Lansing when he was 11 years old.
[']I was desperate to change and feeling worse and worse about myself the longer I wasn't straight.[']
The increasingly intense sessions were led by a local therapist who was well known in his church. They were informed by religion but focused on psychological issues that the therapist believed caused McAlvey's homosexuality.
The therapy didn't change his orientation, but it [']changed me in some really fundamental ways,['] said McAlvey, 29, who left Michigan two years ago for a job in New York but still considers the state home.
[']When you're 11, the person who you are going to be is developing, and to be told a part of you that you didn't choose and can't change is wrong, it's a crushing blow to your self-esteem.[']
Legislation introduced last week by state Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, seeks to ban gay conversion therapy for minors. House Bill 5703 would amend Michigan's mental health code to prohibit health professionals from attempting to change the sexual orientation of anyone under 18 years old.
[']The evidence shows you cannot change sexual orientation, so the legislation was kind of a no-brainer,['] Zemke said. [']We want to make sure children cannot be exposed to situations that are emotionally harmful to them because of their parents' beliefs or desires to try to change their orientation.[']
Calling a ban on conversion therapy for minors a [']civil rights['] issue, Zemke noted that New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed similar legislation into law last year. California and New York have similar statewide youth bans, which have survived various legal challenges.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative or ex-gay therapy, has been discredited by leading medical organizations.
The American Psychological Association, in a 2009 report, said that attempts to change sexual orientation are ineffective and can have harmful side effects on subjects, including depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety. It urged mental health professionals to avoid the practice.
Zemke said he has had positive conversations with some Republican lawmakers in Lansing and expects to win some bipartisan support for his legislation. But his bill faces a hurdle in the House Health Policy Committee chaired by Rep. Gail Haines, R-Waterford.
[']I think creating new laws that intervene in the relationship between parents and a child seems unnecessary,['] Haines told the MIRS subscription news service, noting her committee has a lot of other major bills to consider later this year.
Christie, in signing the New Jersey law, shared similar concerns, noting that [']government should tread lightly into this area.['] But he ultimately concluded it was inappropriate to expose children to a therapy without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh harm.
The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the American Association of Christian Counselors and two individual therapists sued New Jersey days after Christie signed the law, arguing that it wold prohibit licensed counselors from [']respecting the rights of clients['] interested in conversion therapy.
A federal judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the law regulated conduct but did not violate anyone's freedom of speech or religion. The U.S. Supreme Court recently paved the way for California to begin enforcing its ban on conversion therapy for minors.
It's not clear how many Michigan mental health professionals practice conversion therapy, which has generally fallen out of favor, but Zemke said it is worth protecting even a single child.
McAlvey, who was one of those kids, agreed.
[']There's not a question about whether it's harmful or dangerous,['] he said. [']It is, and it's time we do what we can to protect kids in Michigan from it.['] "