Democrats in Congress have reintroduced legislation seeking to ban “ex-gay” conversion therapy nationwide, challenging Vice President Mike Pence to support the bill given his past comments suggesting support for the widely discredited practice.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) in the U.S. House and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) in the U.S. Senate reintroduced on Tuesday the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, legislation that would ban “ex-gay” therapy by declaring it fraudulent practice
Murray said in a statement the bill is necessary given the anti-LGBT positions of the Trump administration, which among other things includes the reversal of Obama-era guidance assuring transgender kids have access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
“On this and so many other issues impacting the LGBTQ community, the Trump Administration has laid out a hateful, damaging agenda to undo hard-won progress, divide our communities, hurt our friends, neighbors, and family members just because of who they are or who they love,” Murray said. “This is absolutely the wrong direction for our country — and I will continue to push for ways to make sure all people, regardless of who they are or who they love, are treated equally and with respect.”
First introduced in the previous Congress, the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act would clarify that “conversion therapy” in exchange for monetary compensation, as well as advertising of such services, is fraud and illegal under the authority of Federal Trade Commission. Additionally, the bill would empower state attorneys general with the authority to enforce the ban in federal court.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), an original co-sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement the legislation would both end a dangerous practice and protect consumers from fraud.
“We need to ban ‘conversion therapy’ plain and simple.” Booker said. “So-called ‘conversion therapy’ isn’t therapy at all—it’s a tortuous, fraudulent practice that has been repeatedly condemned by medical professionals and has no place in our country. By empowering the FTC to protect consumers from this kind of fraud, this bill will take an important step in ending this harmful practice for good.”
Major institutions, including the American Psychological Association, have come out against therapy aimed at converting sexual orientation and gender identity on the basis that it doesn’t work and can harm the patient.
The reintroduction of the bill comes under a new administration with the vice president who has an anti-LGBT history. As Indiana governor, Mike Pence infamously signed into law a “religious freedom” bill seen to enable discrimination against LGBT people. Under pressure from LGBT rights supporters and the business community, Pence was forced to sign a “fix” to the law.
During his campaign for a U.S. House seat in 2000, Pence’s campaign platform expressed support for federal funding to combat HIV/AIDS, but on the condition that resources go to institutions that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Although the statement doesn’t explicitly mention conversion therapy, it has been interpreted as an endorsement of the widely discredited practice. A Pence spokesperson told the New York Times late last year Pence has never supported conversion therapy and his past positions were misinterpreted.
Lieu told the Washington Blade the vice president can demonstrate his lack of support of “ex-gay” conversion therapy by endorsing the legislation introduced by Democrats.
“Vice President Pence claims that he never supported conversion therapy, but his anti-LGBT record raises serious doubts about that assertion,” Lieu said. “I truly hope Mr. Pence opposes this dangerous practice and urge him to support my legislation to set the record straight.”
The Blade has placed a request in with the office of the vice president seeking comment on whether he would support the legislation.
Seven states along with D.C. have banned conversion therapy for youth: California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, New York and New Mexico. (Unlike the other states, New York’s ban isn’t statutory, but the result of an order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.) The bans in California and New Jersey faced legal challenges on the basis they violated freedom of speech and religion, but were upheld as constitutional.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Congress should pass the legislation to end widely discredited aimed at changing sexual identity.
“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is nothing more than child abuse and those who inflict it on others must be held accountable,” Griffin said. “HRC thanks Senators Murray and Booker for their efforts to outlaw this dangerous and inhumane practice. Now more than ever, we must send a clear message to the LGBTQ community—and especially LGBTQ young people—that who you are is not something that needs to be fixed.”