OLYMPIA – Therapists who seek to convert gay or transgender youth could face legal sanctions under a proposed bill considered by a Senate panel Thursday.
The bill would classify “conversion therapy” – an effort to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using psychological or spiritual interventions – as unprofessional conduct if it is performed on anyone under 18. Therapists who employ such practices could be cited and sanctioned with fines, license revocation or suspension.
Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, the bill’s sponsor, said the practice is inhumane and lacks a scientific basis.
He called conversion therapy “torture.”
“(It should not take place in Washington,” he said.
Liias also said the bill would provide more protection to LGBT youth than existing laws on child abuse.
Supporters said conversion therapy leaves vulnerable youth at even greater risk by telling them it’s not OK to be themselves.
“Conversion therapies are based on a notion that same-sex attraction is inferior, dysfunctional or somehow or just plain wrong,” Lucy Homans, of the Washington State Psychological Association, said. “These treatments are inaccurate, prejudicial and have no basis for a positive outcome.”
Joseph Backholm, with the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said the bill isn’t necessary. Any kind of coercion in therapy already is classified as misconduct, he said.
“In the three, maybe four years of debate about this, we have never seen a therapist identified who has done any of the things that have been referenced,” Backholm said.
But Nicholas Oakley, with the Center for Children and Youth Justice in Seattle, disagreed, saying he’s spoken to many individuals who have been subjected to conversion therapy.
“There’s evidence to the harmful, lasting and deadly effects of this practice,” he said. “Washington will no longer tolerate this form of child abuse.”
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, questioned if the bill would be effective because it does not cover nonlicensed practitioners and religious entities.
The bill could be strengthened, Oakley agreed, but it’s a good first step. “(Some bills) really set norms and reflect our values, and the importance of that cannot be overstated,” he said.
Some critics said the bill does not provide a clear definition of conversion therapy. But Liias said the language in the bill is similar to laws in other states, such as California.
“I feel confident that definition captures the exact meaning of what we’re trying to prohibit,” he said. “This is really about a specific kind of practice that’s harmful and dangerous.”