January 22, 2015 at 3:42 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Bill seeking ‘conversion therapy’ ban dies in Va. Senate committee

Mathew Shurka, conversion therapy, Richmond, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia

Mathew Shurka underwent so-called ‘conversion therapy’ in Virginia when he was 20-years-old. He spoke in support of two bills on Thursday that would ban the controversial practice in the commonwealth. (Photo courtesy of Brad Kutner/GayRVA)

A Virginia Senate committee on Thursday struck down a bill that would have banned “conversion therapy” to minors in the commonwealth.

Members of the Senate Education and Health Committee by a 7-8 vote margin tabled Senate Bill 988 that state Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) introduced on Jan. 12.

“It is extremely disappointing that our lawmakers cannot come together in support of a bill that would protect Virginia’s LGBT youth,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, in a statement. “We cannot continue to allow our youth to be put through this so-called ‘treatment’ that can cause depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior. At best, allowing this harmful treatment on our youth is irresponsible, and at worse, it could contribute to the unthinkable.”

The House Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee earlier in the day heard testimony for and against House Bill 1385, an identical measure that state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) introduced last month.

“Homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder,” said Parrish. “Prohibiting any health care provider from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with any person under 18 years of age is necessary to protect our youth as they come to terms with who they are.”

Mathew Shurka, who underwent “conversion therapy” in Virginia and three other states for five years, testified in support of HB 1385 and SB 988.

“This is about protecting children,” Shurka told the Washington Blade.

Apryl Prentiss, deputy director of the Alliance for Progressive Values who underwent “conversion therapy,” also testified in favor of the measures. Representatives of the Family Foundation of Virginia and the Virginia Catholic Conference spoke against the bills alongside a Baptist minister.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, on Tuesday criticized efforts to ban “conversion therapy” in the commonwealth after Hope and other lawmakers and advocates highlighted them during a press conference in the General Assembly Building in downtown Richmond.

“Proponents of legislation prohibiting counseling for kids with gender confusion have to answer the question why they believe it is okay to allow a child to change their behavior or body to match their feelings but it is bigoted to consider helping someone change their behavior or feelings to match their body,” said Cobb in a statement. “Virginia law is clear that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children, a right this legislation clearly violates.”

Some members of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee appeared uncomfortable with Shurka’s testimony during the hearing on HB 1385.

“As I looked them in the eye, they looked away,” Shurka told the Blade. “They rolled their eyes and gave me no acknowledgment.”

New Jersey and California currently ban “conversion therapy” to minors. A similar law the D.C. City Council approved last month has yet to take effect because it remains under congressional review.

Equality Illinois this week launched an initiative in support of a proposal that would ban the controversial practice in the state. Virginia LGBT rights advocates last month used the controversy surrounding a billboard in support of “conversion therapy” that Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays placed along I-64/95 in Richmond to highlight their support of Hope’s bill.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association are among the organizations that publicly oppose the use of “conversion therapy.”

Members of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee on Thursday did not vote on HB 1385 after the hearing in spite of long-standing precedent that indicates they would have likely done so. Their efforts to delay it ultimately proved unsuccessful.

“It’s telling the subcommittee refused to take a vote today,” Hope told Blade. “It is customary practice to vote on these matters after they are heard.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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