The Maryland state senator opposed a bill to ban “gay conversion therapy” for minors. On the Senate floor, Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel), who also opposed same-sex marriage, suggested that families should be able to use “loving” conversion therapy.
What he did not say last week was that he and his wife recommended that their daughter — Del. Meagan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) — seek counseling when she told them she was bisexual. The 27-year-old told her story on the floor of the House of Delegates on Wednesday, shortly before the House gave final approval to the bill to ban conversion therapy.
The House of Delegates voted 95 to 27 in favor of banning the therapy after the Senate passed it last week. The legislation, which would prohibit conversion therapy by licensed medical professionals on minors and bans the use of state funds for the practice, will go to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for his signature.
“This issue isn’t about Republicans or Democrats,” Meagan Simonaire, a first-term legislator who is not running for reelection, said during a dramatic floor speech Wednesday. “It’s not about religious values. It’s about basic human decency.”
She then told a story about “a girl” who was attracted to both boys and girls and never told her family when she fell in love with a girl “out of fear of losing them.” She said when the girl told her parents, they “were heartbroken and disgusted” and recommended she get help from a conversion therapy provider.
At the end of her speech, she revealed that she was the daughter in the story.
She said that although she never sought counseling for her sexuality, “the pain of having her good-intentioned parents convinced of its ability to ‘fix her’ was enough to cause significant pain, self-loathing and deep depression.”
“If this bill keeps even one child from that, it will be worth sharing my story today,” she said.
In an interview, Bryan Simonaire, 54, disputed his daughter’s assertion that he and his wife recommended conversion therapy. He said his daughter came to talk to them about her sexuality when she was 26, after she had been elected to office. Knowing “the religious background she had grown up with,” he said they suggested Christian counseling.
“This was not a minor — this was a grown woman coming to her parents for advice,” he said. “And there was no coercion or pressure.”
Simonaire said he raised his seven children to be “free thinkers” and respects the independence of his legislator daughter.
But Simonaire, who has been in the legislature since 2006, said he voted against the bill because he thinks its language is so broad that health professionals could lose their licenses because of “a simple conversation.”
On the floor last week, he wondered aloud whether “Jesus would have been banned if he had been licensed in Maryland.”
The practice of conversion therapy has been widely discredited by medical and mental-health associations, and its practice on minors is outlawed in the District and 10 states.
If the bill becomes law, providers who attempt to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation would be subject to discipline by the state licensing board.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, who is openly gay, tweeted about Meagan Simonaire’s “bravery” following her speech.
“With the power of her convictions, she has saved other young people from similar painful experiences,” said Madaleno, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.