By Bob Katzen

The House 149-9 and then again 148-8, approved and sent to the Senate a bill 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 recently.

Mental health experts and LGBTQ groups charge that the practice is scientifically unproven and unsound and can trigger depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in these youngsters.

“Today we can pass a bill that would guarantee, at the very least, that the licensed professionals in … young people’s lives will no longer be permitted to try to change who they are,” said Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham). “And more importantly we can offer assurances to those still struggling with coming out, or whose parents are still coming to terms with their orientation or identity, that that they will not be sent to a licensed therapist to change who they know themselves to be.”

Lewis called the practice barbaric and said to LGBTQ kids that nothing is broken, and nothing needs to be fixed. “You are great just the way you are, you are you, and you deserve more than just being tolerated, you deserve to be loved, to be supported, to be respected, and yes even celebrated,” Lewis concluded.

“This vote was an appalling assault on parental rights in the commonwealth,” said the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute Andrew Beckwith who opposes the ban. “Over 140 of our state legislators apparently believe that parents should not be able to get gender-confused children any treatment, even counseling, that might help them avoid cross-sex hormone injections, sterility or ‘transition’ surgery. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its sponsors want to mandate Department of Children and Families investigations for parents who are just trying to get common sense counseling for children who struggle with sexual confusion.”

“Health care providers have a fiduciary duty to do no harm to their clients,” said Rep. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) who spoke on the House floor about the fear she felt coming out as a lesbian to her family. “Don’t be mistaken. Conversion therapy does harm to their clients. Conversion therapy harms their clients through shaming, through increasing self-loathing, through bringing to the foreground feelings of self-hatred, inadequacy and the horrible feeling for any kid: the feeling of being other.”

“This bill discriminates against the rights of parents whose children are confused about their sexual orientation or gender identity, against the rights of children under 18 who desire counseling to help them sort through such confusion, and against therapists such as myself,” said psychologist Eric Sweitzer, Director of The Christian-based Charis Counseling Centers which counsel from a Christian faith-based perspective. “This is the state interfering with the religious beliefs and practices of ourselves and our clients, dictating how we and our clients should approach issues of sexual orientation and gender.”

There was an unusual second roll call vote on the bill requested by Rep. Susannah Whipps (U-Athol) who said she was recorded incorrectly on the first vote.

“On the first vote … I believed I voted “yes,” said Whipps. “I was surprised when a colleague showed me the printout and I was listed as a “no”. I voted in favor of this ban last session and have been a co-sponsor and advocate for this bill this session. I take a great deal of pride in my support of the LGBTQ community.”

She said she was very appreciative that the speaker and her colleagues were willing to accept her motion to reconsider and allow her vote to be corrected on the record. Changing your vote after a roll call is closed is not allowed in the House.

Alternately, Rep. Nick Boldyga (R-Southwick) was recorded as “yes” on the first vote and then “no” on the second.

“I voted “no” in June of 2018,” said Boldyga in a response to Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him why he flip-flopped last week. “My intention was to vote ‘no’ yesterday and I did.”

His response avoids the question about why he flip-flopped. Boldyga did not respond to a follow up e-mail from Beacon Hill Roll Call asking the question again.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it. Both roll calls are listed.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes/Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes/Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes/Yes

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