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House Approves Ban on Conversion Therapy

Adam Trimmer stands out side in a grey shirt that reads "Love actually won."
Adam Trimmer quit conversion therapy after eight months and says he spent a decade recovering from the experience. He's now the Virginia ambassador for the anti-conversion therapy group Born Perfect. (Louise Ricks/VPM News)

Licensed counselors could no longer attempt to change a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity under legislation passed by the General Assembly.

The prohibition on “conversion therapy” for those under the age of 18 has been a longstanding goal for LGBTQ advocates.

A handful of Republicans joined Democrats to pass legislation in a 66-27 vote in the House of Delegates on Monday, while the Senate vote on a companion bill last month was a far closer 21-18.

A number of professional associations, including the American Psychiatric Association, say the practice lacks scientific credibility and can cause depression and other mental health problems.

Past attempts to pass a ban through the Republican-controlled legislature have failed.

Advocates have instead pursued stricter regulations from the state’s professional health boards. The bills effectively speed up the multiyear regulatory process underway in the Department of Health Professions.

Adam Trimmer, a self-described conversion therapy survivor and advocate on the issue, turned to conversion therapy as an 18 year-old, after a suicide attempt sparked by rejection from family members and friends. He said religious organizations often bring in licensed counselors as part of their “treatment” for queer youth.

“There’s a lot of big organizations that are offering ‘Healing from Homosexuality,’” said Trimmer, who also serves as the Virginia ambassador for the anti-conversion therapy group Born Perfect. “Of course they’re not calling it conversion therapy, but that’s absolutely what it is.”

Under the proposed rules, “these kids are not going to be forced to deny themselves in a mental health professional’s office,” Trimmer said.

The conservative Family Foundation of Virginia has argued against the changes, pointing to conversion therapy “success stories.”

“This bill has everything to do with silencing professionals and trapping young minors in a lifestyle they desperately want to avoid,” the group says on a call to action posted on its website.

The House and Senate bills still need to swap chambers for approval before a version reaches Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the timing of Adam Trimmer's start of conversion therapy. Trimmer entered a program after a suicide attempt, not before. 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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