A new bill in Denver proposing a ban on conversion therapy is a part of a much larger, national shift on the issue. This would make it one of almost 50 bills in the country targeting conversion therapy, which is, for some reason, still legal in 36 states.
“These terrible practices target our youth simply for being who they are,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, said in a statement on Monday. “We’re going to make sure that they never happen within our city.” Hancock has been working with a team of Colorado lawyers and advocacy groups on this bill.
Largely run by unlicensed professionals and religious hacks, conversion therapy aims to “convert” queer and trans people onto the path of straightdom or cis gender expression, and has been condemned multiple times by the American Psychiatric Association as a scientifically invalid practice. Conversion therapy can have significant and dangerous effects including “depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse and even suicide.” There are more than 700,000 people in the United States who have survived conversion therapy and even more that go undocumented — that’s roughly the population of the city of Boston.
“2018 was our most successful year since we started,” Matthew Shurka tells Out. Shurka is the creator of Born Perfect, a national campaign to end conversion therapy. There have been five more states that have banned conversion therapy as a practice this year, along with 17 municipalities/counties. He notes that the particular excitement around the Denver bill comes from the fact that in 2019, Colorado will be putting the nation’s first openly gay governor in office. If passed, Denver would be the first municipality to set a ban on conversion therapy in the state.
Though Shurka believes the bill will likely pass on account of how liberal Denver is, a similar statewide bill has failed to pass in Colorado four times. “It’s very Mike Pence-territory,” said Shurka. He notes that Focus on the Family — a right-wing organizer of homophobic terrorism masquerading as a Christian advocacy group — has its headquarters in Colorado Springs. Mike Pence has supported the organization through its lobbying for, and donations to, many anti-LGBTQ causes.
But “there is a tide that changed in Colorado,” said Shurka. He warns that a federal case for conversion therapy is one of the things that scares Born Perfect the most. Despite a “blue wave” in the most recent midterm election, Trump’s recent appointing of Brett Kavanaugh has widely discouraged organizations like Born Perfect or One Colorado from getting victory in the Supreme Court for a law on conversion therapy. “I think the test will be to see how a conversion therapy bill like this will go in 2019 for such a conservative state.”
“We want to demonstrate to folks all across this state,” said Daniel Ramos, Executive Director of One Colorado, the state’s leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. Ramos has been working closely with the city to propose the bill. “Whether they are conservative, faith-leaders, business owners — LGBTQ people are living their lives in every municipal county of this state.”
“When I go there, the legislators won’t even look me in the eye when I’m testifying. They refuse to answer questions,” Shurka said, of previous times he’s advocated in Colorado. He is interested to see how the newly elected officials, such as the Governor or newly-appointed members of congress, will handle the bill.
Colorado, Florida, and New York are states to watch when it comes to the state of conversion therapy in the United States, according to Shurka. “All three states have had, at the state level, the government reject the bill, with retaliation from its counties,” such as the case of Denver. In Florida, for example, 16 counties have banned conversion therapy even though its been rejected at the state level. In New York, Westchester became one of the last counties in the state to ban it in October.
“We’re having op-eds written about it, people are talking about how horrible it is,” said Garrard Conley. Conley is a survivor of conversion therapy and author of the memoir Boy Erased which was released as a film of the same title in November. (Nicole Kidman plays his mom, nbd.) Conley said that national conversations have been started about conversion therapy in a way he’s never seen before.
In Conley’s experience of conversion therapy, his parents sought guidance from Christian leaders and organizers before finally deciding to send him to Love in Action, a base in Tennessee. “Because there was a closed circuit where they were listening to this patriarchal chain of men who are telling them exactly what to do — a chain that went directly to Focus on the Family – because they listen to that, and trusted it, and there was no alternate viewpoint — that’s why they agreed to do conversion therapy.”
“If my parents had been in a situation where they read those op-eds or encountered even the slightest doubt on the internet about conversion therapy, I think they would’ve reconsidered.”