Gay rights advocates have made significant progress in the fight to discredit and ultimately ban conversion therapy, a practice that claims to "cure" gay people. The mainstream medical community is united in its view that the therapy is both ineffective and potentially harmful. So far, California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., have passed laws banning licensed therapists from subjecting minors to such treatment.
Here comes the backlash.
Last week, Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern (R), who once claimed that homosexuality was "more dangerous" than terrorism, introduced the Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act, a bill that would ensure adults and children can undergo conversion therapy "without interference by the state."
The bill, which was introduced along with more than a dozen other anti-gay proposals, appears to be the first in the country to protect conversion therapy -- although the Texas Republican Party endorsed the therapy in its party platform last summer. The measure also stands out because mental health counselors in Oklahoma are free to offer conversion therapy now.
"[The bill] gives people the choice, parents the opportunity, to take their children for some counseling if they’re struggling with same-sex attraction," Kern said, according to Oklahoma's News Channel 4. She did not respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
But as state Rep. Emily Virgin (D) noted to HuffPost, "There’s nothing saying that this type of therapy is illegal in Oklahoma."
Virgin, who opposes the bill, said, "I really don’t think it is the legislature’s place to come in and say we like this type of treatment when in so many instances, we’ve seen it’s very, very harmful to children."
Nearly every major medical professional group, from the American Medical Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics, has stated that it does not support conversion therapy. In 2009, a task force with the American Psychological Association found that the treatment can actually harm the patient while it does not change the person's sexual orientation. The task force said its unintended side effects include depression and suicidal tendencies. Late last year, the suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn in Ohio sparked a campaign for a federal law to ban conversion therapy around the country.
Samantha Ames, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights who works on the center’s push to end conversion therapy, described Kern’s proposed law as "statutory backlash." If it passed, she said, the legal advocacy group would immediately challenge it in court. "It’s like trying to legalize snake oil," said Ames.
Troy Stevenson, director of the Equality Network in Oklahoma, advocated for the ban against conversion therapy in New Jersey before moving back to Oklahoma, where he grew up. Although it is hard to know exactly how many conversion therapists are practicing in a state -- the industry is notoriously secretive -- Stevenson said that in Oklahoma, tales of conversion therapy abound.
"When I was in New Jersey, we were hard pressed to find licensed practitioners who were doing this," he said. "Here, everywhere we go -- town hall meetings, to a university, even to some of the SAGE groups [Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders] and things like that -- the first thing they start talking about is the conversion therapy they went through as a child."
Carden Crow, a 36-year-old transgender man from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, said he went through conversion therapy twice, as well as an exorcism, before attempting suicide in his teen years. He worries that the proposed law will encourage more people to try conversion therapy.
"I think it would be the only justification that people really need to go ahead and say, 'Well, my church agrees with it and now my government agrees with it, so why not?’ I think it would provoke a downhill slope," Crow said. "That’s really kids being sacrificed."