D.C. Council weighs ban on gay-conversion therapy for minors


The 39th Annual Capital Pride Parade moves along 17th Street on June 7. For the first time the U.S. Armed Forces color guard participated in the parade. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post )

A D.C. Council committee will hear testimony this month on whether to ban so-called gay-conversion therapy for minors, a first step toward prohibiting the controversial practice in the nation’s capital.

Most major medical policy groups in the country have taken positions against the practice, also known as reparative therapy or “reorientation,” which seeks to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals.

But only California and New Jersey have passed measures to ban the practice for minors, and both of those laws face continuing court challenges.

Lawmakers in Maryland abandoned a similar effort this year and one failed in the Virginia legislature. Over the weekend, the Texas GOP embraced reparative therapy as part of its official state party platform.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced the measure last month, saying the therapies are without scientific merit and can be damaging to children.

“Many children who have participated in conversion therapy suffer from increased risk for suicide, depression, anxiety, shame and self-hatred,” Cheh said. “By adopting this legislation, we will send a strong message that the District does not believe our LGBT children are sick.”

Cheh’s legislation would bar District-licensed mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with patients under the age of 18. The legislation would deem providing such therapy unacceptable and trigger disciplinary action from the provider’s licensing board.

In Maryland, Del. Jon S. Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat running for attorney general, introduced a measure that would have banned the practice for licensed mental health providers, but not clergy. He withdrew the measure, saying that those who feel harmed by the therapy in Maryland already can register complaints with the state.

In Virginia, lawmakers heard from two women who said they were scarred by the experience of undergoing the therapy. But lawmakers also heard from two men who argued that conversion therapy had helped them overcome same-sex attraction and should not be banned.

The D.C. Council’s health committee will hear testimony on June 27 beginning at noon.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
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