Oklahoma takes a step toward banning conversion therapy

Oklahoma is the latest state to take a step toward banning conversion therapy.

A state House committee passed a bill Wednesday that would prohibit licensed medical practitioners from providing conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, to anyone younger than 18.

The bill, titled the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, was approved in a bipartisan vote and will now move to the full state House.

“When I first ran for office six years ago I made a commitment to be a voice for all Oklahomans,” tweeted Democratic state Rep. Jason Dunnington, who wrote the bill. “Today, with bipartisan support we passed a bill out of committee to protect LGBTQ youth from the harms of Conversion Therapy. We are better together.”

LGBTQ advocacy organizations also cheered the move.

“We have a long way to go, but we are heartened today by the committee members who voted in favor of protecting our youth, and moving Oklahoma one step closer to a place that is welcoming to all who call this state home,” Allie Shinn, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, said in a news release.

Health professionals reject the practice

Leading medical and mental health professional organizations have denounced conversion therapy, noting it poses significant risks to LGBTQ people, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.

“Underlying these techniques is the assumption that homosexuality and gender identity are mental disorders and that sexual orientation and gender identity can and should be changed,” the American Medical Association notes in a statement on its website. “This assumption is not based on medical and scientific evidence.”

LGBTQ youth who had undergone conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who did not, according to 2019 survey from the Trevor Project, an organization that works on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

About 16,000 LGBT youth will receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. About 57,000 will undergo the treatment from a religious or spiritual adviser.

LGBTQ people who are feeling hopeless or suicidal can contact The Trevor Project at thetrevorproject.org or 1-866-488-7386 to get help.

These places have restricted conversion therapy

Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have banned conversion therapy for young people, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Utah became the most recent state to outlaw the practice last month.

These are the states, along with Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, that have restricted the practice:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington

North Carolina has banned public funding for conversion therapy for those under 18 by executive order. And many cities in states that have not enacted conversion therapy bans have banned the practice at a local level, including Atlanta; Columbia, Missouri; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

US Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, has introduced a bill in Congress that would ban conversion therapy nationwide, but so far no action has been taken on it.

These states have introduced legislation on conversion therapy

A number of other states have introduced bills to restrict conversion therapy, although in some cases the bills didn’t make it out of committee or were tabled for later.

Here are the places that are considering or have considered such legislation, according to the Trevor Project and CNN reporting:

  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin