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Ky. Lawmakers Discuss Conversion Therapy Ban

Ryland Barton
Kentucky Public Radio

A bipartisan group of Kentucky lawmakers wants to ban conversion therapy, a discredited method used to try and change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

A proposal to ban the practice was heard during the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee On Licensing And Occupations on Tuesday.

Zach Meiners, a 30 year-old filmmaker Louisville, says he was forced by his parents to go to conversion counseling sessions twice a week for four years when he was a teenager.

“I was told that I couldn’t be loved or find love until I successfully repressed my desire for the same sex,” Meiners said.

“I was taught to inflict physical pain on myself any time I had a gay thought. I was depressed, having near daily anxiety attacks and eventually became near suicidal.”

Bills to ban conversion therapy were proposed in the last legislative session, but did not advance or receive hearings.

The measures would ban mental health professionals and doctors from practicing conversion therapy on minors or adults who are wards of the state. Those who violate the law would be subject to discipline by their licensing agencies.

It would also ban public funds from being given to organizations that perform conversion therapy.

Lexington Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a sponsor of the effort to ban conversion therapy in Kentucky, compared the practice to genital mutilation, she said she became more aware of the issue after the 2018 film, “Boy Erased.”

“Loving all our youth will not fail them, however conversion therapy—conversion torture—will,” Forgy Kerr said.

Rep. Lisa Willner, a Democrat from Louisville, psychologist and cosponsor of the bill, said that the practice is dangerous.

“Efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are not effective and these efforts are associated with many severe symptoms and sometimes deadly consequences,” Willner said.

According to a study by San Francisco State University, LGBTQ youth were eight times more likely to have attempted suicide if they were rejected by their families because of their identities.

Joseph Backholm, an attorney with the Family Research Council, said that the proposal would infringe upon free speech and parents’ rights to raise their children.

“The legislature does not get to substitute its judgement for that of the parents until a finding of unfitness is made of the parents,” Bakcholm said. “Because we recognize that the legislature is not in the best position to raise children and is not in the best position to determine what is good for a child.”

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville, pointed out that the legislature already makes rules for parents.

“The truth is, if I beat the crap out of my kids, those rights are taken away from me. There are instances after instances in which the legislature does modify that parental aspect,” Raque Adams said.

The legislature will consider the proposal again when it reconvenes in January.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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