Virginia Is First Southern State to Ban Conversion Therapy for Minors

Virginia Is First Southern State to Ban Conversion Therapy for Minors

Virginia became the first Southern state to ban licensed medical professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors, as Democrats in the state pass expansive civil rights bills after gaining control of the legislature and governor’s mansion for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Conversion therapy — a widely discredited practice based on the premise that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer is a mental illness — attempts to change someone’s sexual identity or gender orientation through different procedures that could include shock therapy.

On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that made Virginia the 20th state to ban the practice for minors.

“No one should be made to feel wrong for who they are — especially not a child,” Mr. Northam said in a statement on Tuesday. “Conversion therapy is not only based in discriminatory junk-science, it is dangerous and causes lasting harm to our youth.”

Sam Brinton, a survivor of conversion therapy and the head of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, an L.G.B.T.Q. youth suicide prevention group, sees Virginia’s decision to ban the practice as a start for the South.

“The South is ready to end conversion therapy,” said Brinton, who uses the pronoun they.

“We know and every major medical association has said that conversion therapy is potentially extremely harmful,” they added. “When a state like Virginia bans conversion therapy, we know that we can save lives from this dangerous practice. The state is affirming who they are and not trying to erase them.”

Conversion therapy can include bringing up past traumas that the therapist believes may have caused homosexuality, or aversion therapy, during which patients are made to feel disgusted when looking at L.G.B.T.Q. people, they said. It can also have religious elements, with patients being told that their god doesn’t want them to be L.G.B.T.Q.

According to the Trevor Project’s National Survey on L.G.B.T.Q. Youth Mental Health, two in three L.G.B.T.Q. youth reported that someone tried to tell them that they should change their sexual orientation or gender identity, and those that had undergone conversion therapy were twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who had not.

The conversion therapy bill is one of many that have been carried by Democrats in Virginia for years, but previously stalled in a Republican-controlled House or the Senate, said Scott Surovell, a Democratic state senator and vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“It passed now because of the November elections,” Mr. Surovell said. “We never had the votes to pass it until the Democrats took over.”

He noted that this was the first time Democrats had had control of both chambers and the governor’s mansion in 26 years.

“It has been a historic session,” Mr. Surovell said. “The Virginia Senate has been passing nondiscrimination bills, but it has always died in the House.”

Since gaining control of both chambers, Democrats have also passed the Virginia Values Act, a bill introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin, the state’s first openly gay legislator. The act protects the L.G.B.T.Q. community from being discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“It is the most comprehensive civil rights legislation that Virginia has passed,” Mr. Ebbin said on Tuesday. “This is really a major achievement for me but more importantly for Virginia to make it clear that we are a welcoming commonwealth and one that doesn’t tolerate discrimination.”

In this year’s session, the legislature has also passed bills to decriminalize marijuana and removed some of the restrictions on women’s reproductive decisions, Mr. Ebbin said.

“It’s an array of measures that move our commonwealth forward in many ways,” he said.

On Tuesday, legislators passed a bill to have a commission decide whether to make a recommendation to remove the Robert E. Lee statue that represents Virginia from the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol Building.

Lawmakers are considering replacing Lee, a Confederate general, with a Virginian who people feel is more appropriate, Mr. Ebbin said.

“Virginia is waking up from a troubled history,” he said.

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