Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Ban Conversion Therapy

Virginia is the latest state to outlaw the controversial and extremely dangerous practice of conversion therapy on minors. The widely discredited and revolting practice views gender identity and sexual orientation as a mental illness and attempts to convert people using different procedures.

Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed House Bill 386 that banned the practice on LGBTQ children in the commonwealth on March 2. According to WHSV, the Virginia Senate voted 22-18 and the House of Delegates voted 66-27 to prohibit licensed therapists and counselors from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The law will officially take effect on July 1, 2020.

“Conversion therapy sends the harmful message that there is something wrong with who you are,” Northam said in a statement. “This discriminatory practice has been widely discredited in studies and can have lasting effects on our youth, putting them at greater risk of depression and suicide. No one should be made to feel they are not okay they way they are—especially not a child. I’m proud to sign this ban into law.”

Conversion therapy, which can have religious aspects, has been discredited by several organizations, including the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA says conversion therapy is not based on science and can be harmful to people’s mental health.

“As a survivor of this dangerous and fraudulent practice, I can’t fathom just how many young LGBTQ lives may be saved with these critical protections from conversion therapy,” Sam Brinton (they/them), Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement to The North Star.

Brinton noted that The Trevor Project hears from LGBTQ youth who have undergone conversion therapy and are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. They said, “This bold action will send a message to all LGBTQ young people in the great Commonwealth of Virginia that they are loved and deserve support.”

“Conversion therapy has no place in modern society and as the first of many LGBTQ-affirming bills to reach the desk of Governor Northam, we are happy to sweep conversion therapy into the dustbin of history,” they concluded.

Serving as proof that local elections matter, Democrats, who gained control of both chambers in November, also passed the Virginia Values Act to protect LGBTQ people from facing discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, The New York Times reported. Northam is expected to sign all LGBT rights bills after the General Assembly closes its 60-day session on March 7.

Where Do Other States Stand on Conversion Therapy?

Virginia is the 20th state to ban conversion therapy and the first to do so in the South. Other states to ban the controversial practice include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia also bans the practice.

In August 2019, North Carolina’s governor banned the use of taxpayer dollars for conversion therapy for minors, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks LGBTQ legislation. Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, also partially bans conversion therapy.

Twenty-nine states and four territories—American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands—have no state law or policy against conversion therapy.

Conversion Therapy Quick Facts

  • The Supreme Court of the United States has allowed the decisions of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold New Jersey’s anti-conversion therapy law to remain in effect three times, most recently in April 2019. (HRC)

  • An estimated 20,000 LGBTQ youths in states without conversion therapy bans will be subjected to the controversial practice by a licensed healthcare professional if state officials don’t interfere, a report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law revealed.

  • LGBTQ youth who have undergone conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who have not. (The Trevor Project)

  • In the past year, 42 percent of LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt. (The Trevor Project)

  • Transgender and non-binary youth are more likely to report a suicide attempt after undergoing conversion therapy. According to The Trevor Project, 57 percent of transgender and non-binary youth who have undergone conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt in the last year.

Resources for LGBTQ Youths

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has resources for people who have come out as LGBTQ and for parents, loved ones and teachers who want to support LGBTQ youth. Ellen Kahn, senior director of programs and partnerships at HRC, previously told The North Star that it’s crucial that parents of LGBTQ children be supportive.

“If you are the parent of a child who has just come out at LGBTQ—the first thing to consider is that your child has opened up to you and has made a conscious choice to let you into their life and to be honest in their relationship with you,” Kahn said in an email. “Now it is up to you to love, accept and support them in all their needs.”

LGBTQ youths looking for resources related to sexual orientation, gender identity and other topics can visit the Trevor Support Center here. The Trevor Project also has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline can be reached at 1-888-843-4564.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.