Students’ petition spurs bill proposal at Capitol

Two University students helped draft a bill that would prohibit efforts to change minors’ sexual orientations.

Roy Aker

State legislators introduced a bill last week that would ban licensed therapists from providing sexual orientation change efforts to children, following a petition authored by two University of Minnesota students last semester.

Political science sophomores Alec Fischer and Gabe Aderhold  requested that state legislators introduce the bill after the students’ petition garnered more than 110,000 online signatures.

“We’re both gay students who grew up in pretty accepting circumstances, and obviously someone who is put through this is not in an accepting circumstance,” Fischer said.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, who spearheaded Minnesota’s same-sex marriage bill last year, and Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, collaborated with Fischer and Aderhold to draft the legislation.

“Really, this [bill] is about protecting youth who often face barriers in bringing complaints against unprofessional therapists,” Allen said.

Sexual orientation change efforts, sometimes called “reparative therapy” or “gay conversion therapy,” attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation. According to the American Psychological Association, these efforts are “unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm.”

The proposed bill deems efforts by a health care provider to change the sexual orientation of a minor “unprofessional conduct.” If passed, the bill would subject practitioners who engage in these efforts to disciplinary action by a licensing board. Unlicensed professionals are not included in the bill.

Six Minnesota licensing boards, including the Board of Medical Practice, would determine the consequences for therapists who don’t adhere to the ruling.

Allen said it’s difficult to determine how many Minnesota therapists practice sexual orientation change efforts, because it’s not usually openly advertised and there are many names for the therapy.

Dr. Marcus Bachmann, husband to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., came under fire in 2011 after allegations that his clinic, then called Bachmann & Associates, had engaged in “reparative therapy.”

Marcus Bachmann said the proposed bill wouldn’t affect his clinic — a Christian therapy center called Counseling Care — because it doesn’t engage in the types of efforts that the bill would ban.

“If a client wants to talk about sexual identity or any other issue, we’re here to listen,” he said. “We’re not here to direct or do any kind of therapy that would bring about anything other than what the client desires or wants.”

LGBT youth have higher-than-average rates of suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, Allen said, and this bill would help combat those issues.

“I really think some of that stems from these types of practices,” she said.

Sexual orientation change efforts can involve “shame, verbal abuse and aversion techniques,” Allen said.

According to a 2009 American Psychological Association report, these practices may cause mental health issues, including depression and suicidal thoughts.

Allen said sexual orientation change efforts have been discredited by most psychological and psychiatric organizations, and she’s confident the bill will pass.

Similar legislation has passed in California and New Jersey, Fischer said, and other states are considering similar bills. He said it’s less controversial than the bill that legalized same-sex marriage in Minnesota and will likely receive bipartisan support.

“We’re already seeing the momentum build behind it,” Fischer said.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL- Minneapolis, is expected to author the Senate version of the bill, which will likely be introduced next month.

Fischer said he hopes University students who have participated in sexual orientation change efforts will testify at upcoming committee hearings and share their stories.