Gay lawmaker wants to ban conversion therapy in Georgia

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A broad coalition of local and national groups is backing an effort by a gay lawmaker to ban conversion therapy for minors in Georgia. 

State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Democrat from Brookhaven who is sponsoring the legislation, introduced House Bill 580 on Tuesday. He said he’s considered the bill – the Youth Mental Health Protection Act – since he was elected to his first term last November.

“It’s kind of appalling that the state allows this to go on right now,” Wilson (top photo) told Project Q Atlanta. “So I was coming at it as just a gay man, but what I did not know until I got here is that the mental health community have all been working in the offseason to put together this bill as well.”

HB 580 would ban professional counselors in Georgia from giving people under 18 years old “any treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender,” according to the bill.

The legislation does not ban counseling for people undergoing gender transition. It would apply to licensed social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists, who would be subject to “discipline by the appropriate licensing authority” for violating the ban.

Wilson said he’s been assured that the bill will get a public hearing during this year’s session. This is the first year in a two-year legislative cycle.

“I’m very excited about that because that’s more than we’ve ever gotten before on this issue,” he said. “That will set us up to build the case within the legislature so that when we return in 2020 for that session, we’ll be in a better position to be able to get it passed out of the committee and onto the floor for a vote.”

Wilson's bill has 11 co-sponsors – all of whom are Democrats. They are Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur, Shelly Hutchinson of Snellville, Debbie Buckner of Junction City, Pat Gardner of Atlanta, Karla Drenner of Avondale Estates, Sam Park of Lawrenceville, Renitta Shannon of Decatur, Park Cannon of Atlanta, Josh McLaurin of Sandy Springs and David Dreyer of Atlanta. 

Hutchinson is a clinical social worker and Gardner is the former executive director of the Georgia Psychological Association. Wilson, Drenner, Park, Shannon and Cannon are all openly LGBTQ.

Bills banning conversion therapy for minors in Georgia failed to get any traction in 2013 and 2016.

Coalition backs conversion therapy ban


Roland Behm, who chairs the board of the Georgia chapter of the American Federation for Suicide Prevention, said that the organization started reaching out to various state and national organizations in June about an effort to ban conversion therapy for minors. 

“We wanted to try and create a broad coalition of folks and organizations to demonstrate that it’s an issue that spans interest groups,” he told Project Q in January.

Behm said the bill is narrowly tailored to apply only to mental health professionals.

“We’re not trying to intervene with clergy,” he said.

Behm added that the ban is an issue of child safety. 

“All the major health organizations have adopted positions or issued statements where they point to the challenges and problems associated with conversion therapy, not just in terms of suicide but in terms of broader health and family issues over the course of a lifetime,” he said.

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The major medical organizations who oppose conversion therapy include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Counseling Association, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association and the National Association of Social Workers.

The coalition of organizations supporting HB 580 includes the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Georgia, GLSEN, Barton Child Law and Policy Center at the Emory University School of Law, Human Rights Campaign, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Lambda Legal, Children's Rights, Lost-N-Found Youth, Faith in Public Life Georgia, Mental Health America of Georgia, Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Georgia Equality, NAMI Georgia, Georgia Parent Support Network, PFLAG National, Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, Reconciling Ministries Network, Georgia Psychological Association, SOJOURN, Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, The Trevor Project, Georgia Society for Clinical Social Work, Trans Lifeline, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Voices for Georgia's Children, GLAAD and the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Additional reporting by Ari Bee


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