Feb. 25 – A bill to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ people was introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature this session and has since been passed by the State Powers Committee.
Conversion therapy is an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The practice has come under increasing scrutiny over the years, and several states have passed measures to ban the practice. Most of these laws prevent mental health practitioners from using conversion therapy, but not religious providers.
Drafted by state Rep. Jim Olsen Roland, this legislation would do the opposite, prohibiting the state of Oklahoma and any political subdivisions from preventing mental health care providers and religious counselors from providing advice intended to “reduce, eliminate, resolve or treat unwanted problems”. -Sexual attractions, behaviors, sexual or gender identity, expressions or expressions, or unwanted gender dysphoria.” The measure would also prohibit any restrictions on parents or legal guardians from obtaining such “advice.”
TahlEquality, the local Oklahomans For Equality chapter, condemned the legislation.
“Beyond a battle of trivia, conversion therapy is a medically discredited practice that leads to increased rates of depression, leading survivors to turn to chemical abuse and suicide attempts. These methods are not even recognized as an evidence-based practice by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health Health A healthier future will not come through pseudoscience, but rather through the acceptance and affirmation of our LGBTQ+ family, friends and neighbors,” the organization said.
None of the state’s 77 counties has passed an ordinance banning conversion therapy for minors. However, the Norman town council amended a municipal ordinance to partially ban the practice for minors last year. Meanwhile, more than 25 US states have imposed bans, or partial bans, on the use of conversion therapy for minors.
At the committee meeting, Olsen, who has authored several pro-life bills, said “the big question before us is do we believe in free speech and freedom of choice ?”
“House Bill 2973 is a bill of freedom, freedom and choice,” he said. “It concerns, in particular, young people who may have experienced homosexuality and decide that they want a different path for their life, or those with gender dysphoria who want advice and help from therapists. So what this bill does is protect the rights of the young person involved, the therapist or the Christian counselor, and the parents to go ahead with that advice if all parties are in favor of it.”
This isn’t the first time Oklahoma lawmakers have tried to protect conversion therapy practices. They also killed bills to ban it outright.
State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, said the Legislature should not pass laws that prohibit people from making their own decisions.
“If there are people who want to go to conversion therapy, I think they are entitled to it,” he said. “I don’t think we should ban certain therapies of this nature. It’s only personal freedom that concerns me, when we start telling people what therapies they can and can’t use. … I don’t know much about the therapy itself, but if I chose to use it for a child or whatever, I would hate to have a state that says, ‘No, you can’t do it.'”
The measure is intended to prevent any federal rule prohibiting such sexual orientation change efforts. Meanwhile, other states are seeking to implement bans on conversion therapy, but others are fighting such efforts.
In November 2020, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision preventing the enforcement of conversion therapy bans in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Several groups are pushing for a rehearing in this case.
Yolette Ross, chairwoman of the Cherokee County Democratic Party, said she doesn’t think conversion therapy should be used on minors.
“If adults want to engage with it, fine, but minors have a hard time understanding who they are and adjusting to their identity, then why add more? Let them form their own identity organically,” she said. “You don’t have to try to persuade them or pressure them. Let them be what they are.”
State Representative Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, declined to speak about the bill until he could study it further. Cherokee County Republican Party Chairman Josh Owen and Cherokee County Libertarian Party Chairman Shannon Grimes could not be reached at press time.