So-called "conversion therapy" still exists; the Southern Poverty Law Center lists almost 70 documented practitioners in 20 states across the United States who currently advertise it to their patients.
Last October, after doing intensive research on the issue, my close friend Gabe Aderhold and I co-founded Can't Convert Love MN, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of conversion therapy in the state of Minnesota. We also wrote a bill that would effectively ban conversion therapy from being practiced on minors in Minnesota. Having same-sex marriage legalized one year prior gave us hope that our bill would be heard and eventually passed; if our legislators approved marriage equality, surely they would advocate for the restriction of a practice that treats homosexuality as a curable disorder.
We were immediately able to partner with a few key legislative supporters of the marriage-equality movement, State Sen. Scott Dibble and State Rep. Karen Clark. I then quickly connected with GLAAD and Change.org to set up a petition asking lawmakers in Minnesota to hear our bill. Gabe continued advocating at the State Capitol, attempting to gain more legislative support. Media outlets began requesting interviews about our progress and about the petition.
Our excitement rose as we watched the number of petition signatures rise into the thousands; within a few weeks we had reached over 100,000.
With increased momentum on our side, Gabe was able to successfully attain co-authors for the bill in both the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate. The possibility of our bill being heard and eventually passed by lawmakers was becoming increasingly achievable.
Throughout this time period we engaged in numerous conversations with fellow college students, local authority figures, and Minneapolis constituents. Our conversations yielded one continuous theme: People were not aware that conversion therapy was still being practiced in Minnesota. Most were obviously disgusted to hear that California and New Jersey were the only two states in the country that had successfully passed legislation banning the use of conversion therapy on minors.
Back in the State Capitol, our bill was transferred to State Rep. Susan Allen. With her collaboration we were able to file the bill to be heard in the 2014 legislative session.
It was during this time that I realized how much of a game politics really is. Having to compete for time and attention against bills that were being pushed by groups with deep pockets, pools of volunteers, and paid lobbyists created hurdles for me and Gabe to tackle with limited resources. The influence of this political power structure became apparent to us once we realized how difficult it is to reach the top of the legislative priority list. Additionally, many legislators were still dealing with backlash from same-sex marriages being legalized, leading to their refusal to back another bill that could impact their bids for reelection.
These setbacks left me angry and disappointed. In my mind it was never about maintaining my pride in the bill I had written with Gabe. It wasn't about playing a political game to be heard by legislators. This was about protecting youth in our state from the dangers of conversion therapy.
Toward the end of February, it became clear that we had the votes needed in the Minnesota House's Health & Human Services Policy Committee. Our petition on Change.org had reached 110,000 signatures, our Facebook page had grown to 900 "likes," and we had begun to form a coalition of organizations nationwide that supported our cause. The progress we had made since October seemed to be exponential. We were at the edge of making history in Minnesota.
Gabe got the bad news first.
Our first committee hearing wasn't going to be scheduled in the House. Without the committee hearing our bill wouldn't advance to the floor, and it was too late into the session to attempt to reschedule. We learned the hard way that our bill had effectively "died before committee."
The second blow to our movement occurred a few weeks later, after an article published by our university's newspaper portrayed our work in a juvenile light. The article stated that our bill wasn't given a hearing due to "the proposal's lack of crucial details and a strong argument for its passage."
Gabe and I were heartbroken. To have our work discredited was humiliating. However, the frustration and embarrassment fueled our attempt to return as a stronger, more composed campaign this upcoming legislative session.
Can't Convert Love MN is just the beginning of the movement to end conversion therapy on a national level. Gabe and I hope our work will inspire other youth to take a stand against the unethical practice.
Banning the use of conversion therapy on minors is not only the moral thing to do; it's the smart thing to do. Even if you believe that being GLBTQ isn't natural or isn't a part of God's plan for certain people, condemning them to a life of repression and psychological trauma should not be the answer. That is exactly what we are condoning if we allow conversion therapy to stay legal in the United States. We need to work to introduce legislation in every state that will effectively reduce and remove the number of people who are able to practice conversion therapy. Only then will we be able to begin working toward a better, more equal future for all children.