By Bob Katzen

The Judiciary Committee held a packed hearing on and then approved two proposals that would prohibit psychiatrists, psychologists and other health care providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of anyone under 18. Conversion therapy exposes the person to a stimulus while simultaneously subjecting him or her to some form of discomfort. The therapy is primarily used to try to convert gays and lesbians to be straight.

Both branches approved a similar bill last year but it never made it to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

“If a conversion therapy bill gets to my desk and we don’t see any other issues with it, it’s something we’d be inclined to support,” Baker said last week.

“Mental health professionals, including licensed social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other state-licensed professionals have a medical and ethical responsibility to their patients not to engage in these harmful, discredited practices,” said Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton), the House sponsor of the proposal. “Such professionals have an obligation to assist their patients in grappling with questions of sexual orientation and gender identity in a healthy and medically sound manner, not one that fosters an environment of prejudice and discrimination, leading to depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal and thoughts of suicide.”

“This legislation would prevent many young people and their parents from getting the treatment they desire,” said the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute Andrew Beckwith who opposes the ban. “Instead, it would ban mental health professionals from even giving ‘talk therapy’ to those who ask for it. This type of counseling on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity would even be labeled ‘child abuse’ and children could be removed from the home by the Department of Children and Families if parents decided to get a gender confused child counseling instead of hormones and surgery.”

“Conversion therapy is based on the concept that people’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be fixed,” said Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). “Well, I say there’s nothing to fix.”

“It’s vital that Massachusetts ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy,” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “The legislation proposed serves the dual goals of protecting many of our most vulnerable young people and affirming the human rights or LGBTQ residents of the commonwealth.”

“This proposed law will have devastating, life-threatening consequences,” said Mat Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel Action. “These legislators have no right to censor a counselor and the client.”

Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) has repeatedly said that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a recent case ruled that “professional speech” is free speech and can’t be restricted.”

Supporters of the bill said the bill is constitutional. They argued the bill does not limit free speech but simply limits an unrecognized medical practice.

Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) said he supports the goal to ban harmful, ineffective and damaging practices that aim to change any youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity. “However, in achieving this goal, we must be sure to be as comprehensive as possible and be sure to be respectful of the First Amendment,” said Dooley.

Dooley proposed his own bill that includes a provision that no practice that utilizes discussion alone could be construed as a harmful sexual identity and gender identity change effort.

“Recently … the Supreme Court ruled that professional speech is protected under the First Amendment,” said Dooley. “This ruling creates a serious barrier to any law that seeks to unduly limit professional speech. So if we aim to fully and completely address this important issue, we must ensure that our law can withstand the rigors of judicial review.”

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