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Conversion Therapy = Junk Science
“I think absolutely conversion therapy should be regarded as consumer fraud,” said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan. “Medical professionals all across the United States have highlighted that this is junk science, that it doesn’t help kids or adults; it harms them.
I think that litigation might be helpful in going after some of the worst practitioners of this junk science, but young people need clear and comprehensive legislative protection to ensure that they’re not in harm’s way.”
Two years ago, Equality Michigan urged Attorney General Bill Schuette to halt and investigate the conversion therapy workshops hosted by Metro City Church and to take legal action. He did not.
“So there is some precedent, but we need to make sure … that there’s a legislative path forward so that these protections are in place,” Knott said.
And once those laws are in place, freedom of religion claims cannot credibly be made as a defense, Knott said.
“This isn’t about religion or about people’s faith … but ensuring that people are protected from this dangerous practice,” Knott said. “State laws that ban licensed professionals from practicing therapy have been challenged on religious grounds, just as freedom of speech and religion have been challenged, but these lawsuits have been dismissed and the laws have been upheld.”
Knott hastened to add that, “In Michigan, as you’re aware, there’s the support of honest and accredited mental health professionals along with the love and acceptance of faith leaders … including strong Christian pastors that have come out and condemned the practice of conversion therapy, and I just don’t want that to get lost.”
What About the Republicans?
In terms of the likelihood of banning conversion therapy in a state legislature dominated by Republicans, Knott sounded optimistic but pragmatic.
“There has been bipartisan support for banning conversion therapy across the country,” Knott said. “Republican governors have signed bills banning conversion therapy. And Governor Herbert of Utah recently announced that his administration, with the support of religious leaders — again, I’m talking about Utah — would be banning the practice of conversion therapy by licensed practitioners, on minors,” she said, in regard to a ban scheduled to go into effect in January, making Utah the 19th state to ban the practice.
“At Equality Michigan, we need to be in coalition with mental health professionals as well as religious leaders that believe that this practice is harmful and isn’t rooted in evidence-based science,” Knott said. “And we need to educate lawmakers about what’s at stake and then continue the public education campaign on why this practice is deeply, deeply harmful for our community.”
However, it was pointed out that conversion therapy has been introduced in the Michigan state legislature for four years without a single committee hearing. Knott had a few words for those who would stand in the way of policy meaningful to the LGBTQ community.
“I think whether we’re talking about conversion therapy or amending Elliott-Larsen, or a handful of other pro-equality potential pieces of policy or legislation, we know that more and more Republicans are joining us and are on our side. The polling shows that the majority of Michiganders oppose discriminatory practices against our community. I think it’s possible that we could have favorable votes in both the House and the Senate if we had hearings and if we had the opportunity for an up or down floor vote. This is good policy. It would be good for lawmakers who took this up; it’s something that Equality Michigan is working on with key partners all across state the and … elections have consequences.”
2020 and the Big Picture
“We’re going into 2020,” Knott said. “And I think we need to be using issues like conversion therapy in talking to constituencies that don’t necessarily turn out and vote. We know that there are approximately 65,000 LGBTQ Michiganders that aren’t registered to vote. And there’s a huge opportunity of reaching out to these folks and educating them. … We’ve got to get these folks engaged in our democracy. We’ve got to register them, we’ve got to educate them, we’ve got to mobilize them to the polls. Civic engagement really should be a year-round activity. We need to be harnessing the people power of our community and talking under the framework of what’s at stake.”