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conversion therapy ban
A Senate committee heard hours of testimony from dozens of witnesses Wednesday before voting down a ban on gay conversion therapy. (Photo by Austin Montoya/One Colorado)
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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in the Colorado Senate again

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The Colorado Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted down a ban on gay conversion therapy for the third year in a row Wednesday.

House Bill 1156 would have prevented licensed mental health counselors in Colorado from providing conversion therapy on minors to amend their sexual preferences or gender identity.

Republicans on the committee said that while they don’t support abusive psychological practices that some people witnesses talked about in nearly four hours of testimony, the support parents’ rights to choose.

Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, said she has known people who found the therapy beneficial.

“All therapists are not created equal,” she said. “There are good ones and bad ones, and are we going to throw all of them out, because some didn’t do right by their clients and others did, very much so?”

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said laws already protect people from abusive mental health therapists.

“If that’s the motivation, if that’s the basis for the bill, we have laws to deal with this,” he said. “What my genuine concern on this bill is is it takes away the right and ability of minors and their parents to seek help they desire.”

Owens said he sometimes disagrees with decisions other parents make regarding their children, but it’s their choice.

“The notion that this is parental abuse in every situation belies Colorado facts,” he said, nothing the law already allows anyone 15 years old or older to obtain conversion therapy without the consent of their parents.

People testified Wednesday that it helped them, while others testified that it wrecked their sense of self-worth as counselors tried to convince them their feelings were wrong.

Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, sponsor of the conversion therapy ban, referenced that the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have condemned the practice as ineffective, at best, and potentially damaging.

Homosexuality hasn’t been listed as  a mental illness by the APA since 1973.

“If we as a body believe being gay isn’t a mental illness then we shouldn’t allow mental health professionals to cure it,” Fenberg said.

Jody Ryan, a Denver psychiatrist, told the committee that health policy can’t be independent of mainstream professional organizations’ guidance, “or else we’re all screwed.”

Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, noted that those older than 18 could get any kind of therapy they want, because the conversion therapy ban applied only to minors. The proposed law would not have applied to clergy or family, but only licensed therapists.

Christian Home Educators of Colorado opposed the bill.

“Parental rights have long been established as an unalienable, fundamental rights in the United States,” said Carolyn Martin, legislative liaison for CHEC. “The Supreme Court has acknowledged that parents, not the state, are responsible for the care, custody and control of their children.”

Laura “Pinky” Reinsch, the political director for One Colorado, the state’s largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Coloradans, said Senate Republicans bypassed the chance to “do right by LGBTQ young people in our state.”

“Instead — for the third year in a row — legislators have chosen politics over banning a harmful, discredited and dangerous practice that attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she said in a statement. “This bill would have safeguarded LGBTQ minors from being subjected to harmful and abusive practices trying to change who they are or who they love. LGBTQ young people who undergo this so-called ‘therapy’ are proven to be at risk of long-term depression, guilt, rejection and even a heightened risk for suicide.”

Reinsch said the committee disregarded both science and testimony from LGBTQ witnesses who spoke of the therapy’s bad effect on them.

“It’s clear that the Republican members of the committee did not have the future of LGBTQ young people — who are some of the most vulnerable in our state — in mind when casting their votes,” she said. “We will hold them accountable.”

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