HARTFORD — It is now illegal for licensed medical providers to practice conversion therapy on minors in an effort to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Senate on Wednesday unanimously adopted the bill, which last week cleared the House by a 141-8 vote. Minutes later, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy held a bill signing ceremony with advocates and leaders from both parties to approve the bill, which became effective upon passage.
“At a time when we see harassment increasing against anyone perceived as being different, at a time when we see the rights of our friends and neighbors being threatened by the national government, at a time when we see LGBTQ youth turning to suicide at record rates, to remain silent is to be complicit,” Malloy said, adding the bill makes Connecticut a leader on the issue.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, one of the bill’s leading co-sponsors, said only four other states and Washington D.C., had previously adopted similar legislation.
The bill makes it illegal to perform conversion therapy on minors in exchange for money, and doing so would be considered unprofessional conduct subject to discipline. It also prohibits state funding from being spent on anything related to conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is a term used to describe a range of practices or treatments aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The controversial practices are used to convince LGBTQ individuals that they are straight or to conform their gender identity to certain beliefs.
Bye, who is one of two openly gay lawmakers in the General Assembly, called conversion therapy a “very dangerous practice that has been repudiated” by virtually all major medical and psychiatric organizations.
She also said it’s important to send a message to teens that they are accepted regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. “I think more importantly, this bill sends the message that homosexuality is not wrong. There is nothing to fix,” she said.
Bye said minors are eight times more likely to commit suicide if their parents disapprove, and are also more prone to depression, drug abuse, and unprotected sex.
Republicans also voiced support for the bill. “This issue rises to recognize it is very difficult to deny someone’s biology,” said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton.
Some Republicans did raise questions or express concern about the bill prior to their vote. Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, suggested the bill isn’t necessary because conversion therapy could be deemed medical malpractice if it’s so roundly rejected.
While he opened his remarks on the Senate floor by saying he was leaning in favor of the bill, he also questioned why the law only applies to minors, excluding adults.
“If I come to the conclusion that this is bad medicine, that it seems to be a no-brainer, again, that it shouldn’t be allowed, and it definitely shouldn’t be allowed if it’s coercion,” he said.
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, expressed concern about how the bill would limit the ability of counselors to talk with teenagers who were questioning their gender identity.
Bye said the bill only prohibits licensed counselors from trying to steer minors in those cases toward a preferred outcome, but Markley questioned whether it would also prevent them from developing approaches based on the individual patient.
Markley agreed coercive practices are “never an appropriate way to deal with people,” and he wanted to recognize the LGBTQ community’s desire to see the bill adopted.
“At a certain point I understand the sensitivities of the people desirous of us to take this action and the unfortunate message they might receive” if the bill had failed, he said.
All eight opposing votes in the House last week came from Republicans, some of whom also expressed concern that the bill would limit counselors’ abilities to work with teens questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Others also said the bill could punish parents or guardians who simply want to ask questions of minors, but Bye said Wednesday that the law doesn’t apply to them.