In early January, a bill was proposed in the Washington State Legislature that served to put an end to ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBT youth in the state. Licensed therapists would be banned from using this unfounded method or risk being charged with unprofessional conduct, facing probation and even the revocation of their license in certain cases.
This contentious therapy exists across Washington State, although it is rarely advertised in the open. While many religious sects condone such methods, including some conservative Christian groups such as Homosexuals Anonymous, EXIT of Melodyland, and Exodus International, some have stated privately that conversion therapy has proven pointless. The founders of Exodus, Michael and Gary Cooper once conceded that “not one person was healed” by this form of therapy.
On February 13th, Bill 2451 was passed by the House with wide bipartisan support (94-4). Many in attendance mused that this was likely because of the heart-wrenching testimonials given by those who had suffered this therapy as young adults. As participants recounted the cruel nature of this practice, not one person showed up to defend it. The testimonials also featured psychologist Doug Halderman, who has worked to bring to light this unethical treatment for years. Halderman explains, in one of his studies on the subject:
“Were their properties intrinsic to homosexuality that make it a pathological condition, we would be able to observe and measure them directly. In reality, however, there exists a wide literature indicating just the opposite: that gay men and lesbians do not differ significantly from heterosexual men and women on measures of psychological stability, social or vocational adjustment, or capacity for decision making.”
However, Bill 2451 soon hit a speed bump when it reached the Senate Health Care Committee, headed by Republican Chair Randi Becker. The way the committee functions is that the head (in this case Becker) is allowed to decide which bills receive executive action and which bills get ignored. If the Chair doesn’t want a bill to move forward, they simply keep it off the executive list. This can be overruled by a majority of committee votes, but with Democrats now in the minority, there was not enough support to pull it forward.
By keeping this bill off the list, Randi Becker ensured it would never reach the floor of the Senate. Now the deadline has passed and the bill has essentially gotten stuck in a bureaucratic jumble. “The bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support, because the testimony was so moving. But, sadly we were unable to get the same understanding and empathy from our Republican Senate members,” stated Senator Karen Keiser (D-33rd District).
However, for those who voted against the bill, they cite the First Amendment as the major reason. After all, some argued, shouldn’t therapists have a right to make their own judgments and practice freely? However, this idea assumes that licensed mental health professionals can function with impunity, simply on the basis of their own personal codes. Yet in reality, this has never been an option. Strict adherence to regulations ranging from sexual discourse to confidentiality already exists for licensed mental health practitioners. Banning an ineffective and abusive practice would protect the client, rather than therapists, who while choosing to practice a science, are promoting their own personal faith to distort and damage self-image.
However, despite the holdup, there is a chance Bill 2451 could still be passed later this year. Right now the Democrats hold minority seats in the committees and therefore cannot push a bill through. However, with elections coming up in November, there is a chance that the balance of power could shift. If this happens, the bill’s movement could continue to a vote on the Senate floor. Many legislators are hopeful for this outcome.
However, until then, the more conservative within the Washington State Legislature will do what they can to continue blocking it. Similar laws have passed in New Jersey and California. For Washington State, it may take another year, but with a little help from the voters, residents can look forward to an end to this inhumane therapy once and for all.