A bill pending in the state Legislature that would ban mental health specialists from providing gender conversion therapy to minors could help prevent suicide among those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer, advocates say.
Advocates for LGBTQ rights in La Plata County lauded the ban Monday after it passed the Colorado Senate. The measure passed with support from several Republicans, including Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who represents La Plata County.
The measure, House Bill 19-1129, must return to the Colorado House for approval of amendments and then receive the governor’s signature before it can become law.
The bill would prohibit licensed mental health providers from any attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also ban attempts to eliminate or reduce a minor’s sexual or romantic attraction toward members of the same sex, according to the draft bill.
Colorado would be the 16th state to pass a ban on gender conversion therapy.
“I’m very proud of Colorado for early on adopting these types of policies for protecting youth,” said Ryan Garcia, chairman of the Four Corners Alliance for Diversity.
Being gay, bisexual, transgender or anything other than straight or cisgender is as much a part of someone’s natural makeup as having green eyes or brown hair, said Jennifer Stucka, a founder of The Rainbow Youth Center in an email to The Durango Herald.
“When adults emotionally abuse children by belittling, beating down their self-esteem and teaching self hatred, it causes emotional distress, and they develop chronic mental illnesses and some even die by suicide,” she said.
Those rejected by their families and sent to conversion therapy are eight times more likely than their straight and cisgender peers to attempt suicide, she said. A cisgendered person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Fort Lewis College junior Alex Hughes witnessed the effect conversion therapy can have after one of his friends was sent to therapy, Hughes said.
Hughes’ friend returned from therapy writing homophobic statements on social media, including that the gay lifestyle was sinful, said Hughes, president of PRISM, the queer-straight alliance at FLC and a supporter of the ban.
“It was really disheartening,” Hughes said.
The state ban does not cover unlicensed conversion therapy that can take place in a faith-based setting. However, such a measure could further protect minors, said Nancy Stoffer, coordinator of FLC’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center and SafeZone training, which teaches faculty and staff how to be allies to the LGBTQ community.
Religious organizations can be a source of love, support and community. But when an individual embraces a heterosexual lifestyle because that is what their community expects, it can lead to relationships and marriages based on lies, she said.
“A society that makes us lie to each other? Is that really want we want?” she asked.