State Watch

Minnesota inches toward LGBTQ ‘conversion therapy’ ban 

Minnesota House Rep. Athena Hollins speaks during the first day of the 2023 legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Minnesota House Rep. Athena Hollins speaks during the first day of the 2023 legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

A Minnesota House committee voted Wednesday to bar state health care providers from attempting to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity through “conversion therapy,” a discredited practice that major medical associations have condemned as dangerous and ineffective. 

The measure approved Wednesday by the Minnesota House Human Services Policy Committee seeks to prevent licensed mental health care professionals in the state from engaging in conversion therapy with clients who are younger than 18 or are adults considered vulnerable under Minnesota law.

The bill now heads to the state House Health and Finance Committee, where it is expected to pass.

“This bill will help ensure that LGBTQ+ minors are protected from harmful practices that diminish their self-worth, and that’s all I want for LGBTQ folks in the state of Minnesota,” state Rep. Athena Hollins (D), the bill’s primary sponsor, said Wednesday during a hearing.

“I want them to know that they are fine just the way they are,” Hollins, who is openly pansexual, said. “In fact, they’re more than fine — they are fabulous, and they are loved.”

“Conversion” or “reparative” therapy practices have been denounced as unscientific by major medical groups including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, in part because they are centered around a false assumption that LGBTQ identities are pathologies that need to be cured.

Attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity have also been condemned by LGBTQ advocacy and mental health organizations, who say the consequences of conversion therapy are often steep and long-lasting.

A 2020 report from the Williams Institute, a public policy think tank, found that lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the U.S. were nearly twice as likely to report having suicidal thoughts when they were exposed to conversion therapy.

The same study found that 7 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual 18- to 59-year-olds had experienced conversion therapy at some point in their lives, most of them from religious leaders. A third said they had received conversion therapy from a health care provider.

A 2021 study from The Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth suicide prevention group, found that around 13 percent of LGBTQ youth had been subjected to conversion therapy to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, 83 percent of which underwent conversion therapy while under the age of 18.

Conversion therapy practices also come with financial costs. A March Trevor Project report determined that the “direct” costs of conversion therapy — health insurance reimbursements or fees to religious organizations — compounded with the “indirect” costs of conversion therapy — treatment for anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide attempts — added up to roughly $9.23 billion each year in federal government spending.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws or policies in place that ban conversion therapy for minors, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that tracks state legislation impacting the LGBTQ community. Five states — including Minnesota — have partial bans in place.

An executive order signed in July by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) bars state dollars from funding conversion therapy but does not ban the practice entirely.

Three states — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — are located in a federal judicial circuit with an injunction that prevents the enforcement of bans on conversion therapy practices.

Minnesota lawmakers’ decision to advance legislation to bar state doctors from practicing conversion therapy comes just as House Republicans in neighboring Wisconsin voted for a second time to block the state from enforcing its own ban on conversion therapy.

Republicans in both states argued that legislation to ban conversion therapy is unconstitutional and the legislature does not have the right to interfere with an individual’s personal health care decisions.

“The government does not belong in a counselor’s office,” Minnesota state Rep. Debra Kiel (R) said during Wednesday’s hearing. “The law violates the freedom of speech in a very private setting. This is a personal conversation between both the counselor and whoever is seeking the counseling.”

Kiel then introduced an amendment to ban gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, which failed in a 6-5 vote.

Tags Athena Hollins conversation therapy Debra Kiel LGBTQ rights Tim Walz

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