Petition piques interest

A student initiative to ban anti-gay therapy for minors in the state is gaining traction.

Anne Millerbernd

Two University of Minnesota students are working to put a stop to therapy aimed at changing minors’ sexual orientation in Minnesota.

Political science sophomores Alec Fischer and Gabe Aderhold are petitioning lawmakers to pass a bill that would prevent licensed therapists and counselors from using sexual orientation conversion therapy on minors. They’re currently working with legislators to draft a bill, which they hope to present to the state Legislature in February.

The students’ petition had more than 47,000 signatures as of Tuesday night after being public for a week and a half on Change.org.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, is working with the students and is set to author the House version of the bill, Aderhold said.

Fischer said the bill would apply only to minors because he and Aderhold don’t want to take away adults’ rights to enter conversion therapy. Minors often don’t sign themselves up, he said.

“If [somebody] wanted to turn themselves in to the therapy, that is their freedom to do so,” he said. “Minors just don’t have that option. Almost all of the time, it’s their parents forcing them to go.”

The bill would not infringe upon any groups’ free speech rights or religious freedoms, Aderhold said.

“It remains clear of the scope of, say, a religious or spiritual community’s beliefs that … there’s a morally right sexual orientation,” he said. “This legislation would not impede on their ability to say that.”

California and New Jersey have passed similar legislation in recent years.

Fischer said he was bullied extensively in middle school and attempted suicide because of it, making the issue personal for him.

His family and close friends accepted his sexuality, he said, adding that he can’t imagine what it would be like to be put into conversion therapy.

“I came out to people who were accepting of me, and I still faced depression and anxiety,” he said.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said he feels strongly about the subject and has supported a similar proposal in the past.

“I think it is no less than health care malpractice to do this kind of therapy,” he said. He thinks it’s especially bad to administer this type of therapy to minors, he said, because they have fewer legal rights than adults.

To pass in the 2014 legislative session, Dibble said, the bill would need a strong campaign behind it — one with a wide range of support, research and personal stories.

“It’s going to be tough, but I think it absolutely can be done,” he said.

Because Minnesota recently legalized same-sex marriage, Fischer and Aderhold said, they’re confident a bill to ban conversion therapy would pass if it was introduced.

But because 2014 is an important election year, the legislation could be pushed aside, they said.

Gov. Mark Dayton supports the rights of LGBT individuals to “be who they are,” according to an email from Matt Swenson, the governor’s press secretary.

“Like all students, they deserve protection from intrusion into their lives by coercive programs,” Swenson said in the email.

Dibble said there are legislators who oppose LGBT lifestyles and believe sexuality can be changed.

But the legalization of same-sex marriage in Minnesota and other states will give the students’ measure more weight, he said.

“People understand that GLBT folks are created,” he said, “that they’re born, not made … so that helps quite a bit.”

Adam Arnold, a licensed psychotherapist based in St. Paul, said most psychological and psychiatric associations in the United States have declared that homosexuality is not a disease.

He said many in his field believe conversion therapy stigmatizes LGBT people.

“It makes them to believe that they’re sick and that they’re bad,” he said.

Stef Wilenchek, director of the University’s GLBTA Programs Office, said the petition communicates a key point for the LGBT community.

“The message that who we are is not something to be fixed, I think, is really important,” Wilenchek said.