FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Twice a week for four years when he was in high school, gay student Zach Meiners underwent “conversion therapy,” a practice that attempts to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Once the sessions ended, it took almost 10 years before he started “to heal and learn to love" himself, Meiners said Tuesday during a rally to promote bills that would effectively ban conversion therapy in Kentucky.
“It was ingrained in my head that to be gay meant that I was apart from God and that I could never find acceptance, love or fulfillment unless my identity changed," said Meiners, now 30. “I was publicly shamed. I was taught to hate who I was."
Bills aimed at effectively ending the practice have been introduced in the Republican-dominated House and Senate.
Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington, lead sponsor of the Senate measure, on Tuesday referred to the practice as “conversion torture." Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner of Louisville, lead sponsor of the House bill, denounced it as a “discredited and dangerous” practice.
“This practice is in fact not a therapy at all," Willner said. “This is a practice that attempts to fix something that was never broken. It is a practice that targets some of our most vulnerable and disenfranchised youth."
The proposals would ban mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy with people under age 18. The same ban would apply for adults who are under guardianship or those who are wards of the state because they have been determined to lack the capacity for responsible decision-making, Willner said.
Mental health professionals violating the measures would face disciplinary action by their professional licensing agency. The bills also would prohibit public funds from going to any organization that provides conversion therapy.
Supporters of the bills said Kentucky would be the 20th state to pass legislation limiting the practice.
Meiners, a Louisville filmmaker, began working on a documentary last year about conversion therapy. He traveled the country to interview “survivors" of the practice as well as licensed therapists. The documentary will be released later this year, he said.
“No parent wants to hurt their child," Meiners said at the rally. “I know mine sure didn't. Most parents simply do not have the education or resources they need when their kid comes out. They're told about a conversion therapy, usually by a friend or a pastor. So they try it as if they're going to see a specialist for some sort of health problem. But that's not what this is."
The bills are House Bill 199 and Senate Bill 85.