May 27, 2015

Over the past few months we have seen an increase in the number of anti-conversion therapy bills introduced in legislatures across the country. These bills call for the end of this dangerous practice that causes real harm to the LGBT community, and especially to LGBT youth who are subjected to it against their will.

The fight to end conversion therapy has been going on for a while, but we have seen true momentum building in recent years. Our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) have been partnering with Federation members and activists in the states, adding to this momentum through their #BornPerfect Campaign, started last June.

We caught up with Samantha Ames, Staff Attorney and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator at NCLR, to talk about their work across the country to help end conversion therapy.

Mark Snyder of Equality Federation: Tell us more about the campaign and its structure.
Samantha Ames of NCLR:
#BornPerfect is a campaign of NCLR to end conversion therapy in 5 years. It was started out of work that NCLR started 20 years ago with our youth project, created specifically to combat the discrimination that youth were facing in the mental health system. We had been trying to get folks to pay attention to the issue to little avail. It wasn’t until 2012 when we worked with Federation member Equality California and State Senator Ted Lieu to pass SB 1172 (landmark bill that makes it illegal for licensed California therapists to practice gay conversion therapy on minors), when things began to gain traction. 

The campaign was founded to take advantage of the momentum that moment in history presented us with. So, as a result of that, we have an advisory committee made up of survivors, mental health experts, faith leaders, and reproductive justice experts from all across the country to ensure we are always answering to the people most impacted by the issue and to ensure we are doing the work on behalf of them, not for them. We also have a coalition of national organizations who are interested in getting involved in this work, to make sure we, as a movement, are working together. Equality Federation is a member of that coalition.

MS: What are some of the major state-based wins and achievements regarding conversion therapy over past year?
So far in 2015, we passed bills to protect LGBT youth under 18 from conversion therapy at the hands of licensed mental health professionals in Washington D.C. and Oregon. This year alone, 18 states introduced similar bills, and we are optimistic that before the year ends, we will get at least one more passed. California was the first state to pass a bill like this, in 2012. We’ve been averaging one bill passed per year since then.

We also beat back constitutional challenges to the laws banning conversion therapy in California and New Jersey. We argued them all the way to the Federal Circuit Courts and successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to deny review.

The major victory this year, of course, is that in April the President, Vice President, Surgeon General and several others came out in support of efforts to end conversion therapy, specifically throwing their weight behind the state-based strategy. The President’s strong support of the state-based strategy is huge, and we’ve talked about it in every state legislative hearing since.

MS: Tell us about your collaborative efforts with Equality Federation partners on this issue.
: In every state we work in, we never work alone. We only work in states where we can lift the voices of organizers on the ground, which are most frequently state equality groups. We worked with Basic Rights Oregon, SMYAL in DC, Equality California, and Garden State Equality to pass laws banning conversion therapy. We couldn’t do this work without state equality groups on the ground!

We are currently working on conversion therapy bills with Empire State Pride Agenda and Equality Illinois. Our strategy is to come in as support, never dictating what is happening. We want to build the next generation of leaders out of the survivors of these (conversion therapy) practices. We want to support local organizers and support leadership wherever we can.

MS: What has been happening with the federal efforts to ban conversion therapy?
We have one bill and two resolutions before Congress. Longtime advocate and Congresswoman Jackie Speier re-introduced the SHOCK resolution (Stop Harming Our Kids) she had first introduced in 2012. Senator Cory Booker has introduced, just this week, a companion resolution to SHOCK. Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act which would amend the Federal Trade Commission Act to define conversion therapy in exchange for money as consumer fraud.

MS: What is the likelihood of the Federal Trade Commission Act passing with that amendment?
We are really early on in a legislative strategy that can take years to enact. So while we aren’t sure how long it will take, we are optimistic. More importantly, in the meantime it's a means for public education. Parents by and large don't put their kids through conversion therapy because they hate them, they do it because they love them; they do it because sometimes they are scared for their child's future. So what the state and federal bills do is act as vehicles for public education. If we can get the message to parents that research is telling us something clear, that your kid, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity – they need acceptance and love – it saves lives. It lets kids know that if that if they are being coerced or forced into conversion therapy, if they are in an unsupportive family or community, no matter who they are or where they are that we are fighting for them. They are not alone.

Thank you to NCLR and all our Federation members working to protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy in all the communities you call home.

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