Just one day after Oregon became the third U.S. state to outlaw the use of “conversion therapy” on minors, two California members of Congress introduced a bill that aims to end the discredited practice nationwide.
“We know that being gay or lesbian is not a medical condition that needs a cure,” bill author Rep. Ted Lieu said during a press conference in D.C. today announcing the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, according to the Washington Blade. “Love doesn’t need a cure. That’s what the bill is about.”
The freshman Democrat from California’s first-of-its-kind bill asks the Federal Trade Commission to declare efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as categorically fraudulent and therefore unlawful for any professional therapist to engage in or advertise.
“Being LGBT is not an illness,” said senior California congresswoman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, an original cosponsor of the bill, in a Tuesday statement. “It does not require a cure. So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is not medicine, it is not right, and it has no place in America. We cannot and will not allow conversion therapy peddlers to continue to profit from the abuse of LGBT children and adults.”
Unlike similar legislation passed in California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Oregon, the federal legislation seeks to ban the scientifically discredited practice for use on all ages, rather than just prohibiting licensed therapists from using the “therapy” on minors. The Blade notes that if passed, the bill would prohibit any therapist from charging for what are sometimes called “sexual orientation change efforts,” and would allow private citizens to file federal lawsuits against any practitioners engaging in the practice and charging money for their services.
As written, the bill includes protections for Americans of any age against for-profit therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or their gender identity.
In perhaps the most significant distinction from similar legislation passed in several states, the federal bill approaches the issue as one of medical malpractice, noting that conversion therapy, sometimes called “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy, has been universally denounced by every major medical and mental health organization in the country as not only ineffective, but harmful to those subjected to it. Such efforts should be formally declared to be form of fraud, the bill contends.
The damaging effects of such “treatment” garnered national attention late last year when the suicide note of 17-year-old Ohio trans girl, Leelah Alcorn, went viral, detailing the harm she suffered under the “Christian” reparative therapist she was sent to by her parents to “cure” her of being transgender. A petition on the government’s We the People platform calling for a nationwide ban, to be called “Leelah’s Law,” garnered more than 100,000 signatures, prompting a response from the White House where the administration expressed its “concern” over the use of the discredited treatment.
In the White House press briefing room Tuesday, press secretary Josh Earnest stopped short of directly endorsing the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, but did tell Blade reporter Chris Johnson that the President supports efforts to end the abusive practice.
Pointing to the “overwhelming scientific evidence to indicate that this so-called therapy — especially when it's practiced on young people — is neither medically, nor ethically appropriate,” Earnest said the White House “would welcome” legislation to address the issue.
“As a general matter, given the President’s strong opposition to so-called ‘conversion therapy’ that he’s previously articulated, we would welcome congressional action that’s consistent with the views the President has expressed on this.”
The universal condemnation of the practice among medical and mental health experts allowed Lieu to draft a bill that asks the FTC to regulate the practice in the same way the federal agency regulates other fraudulent behavior, Lieu told BuzzFeed News legal editor Chris Geidner in an interview published Monday night.
“There is no medical condition known as ‘being gay or lesbian.’ That is not a medical disease, defect, and for people to charge money to treat you for something that’s not an illness is fraud,” Lieu told Geidner. “There already is an established baseline that you cannot practice medicine below a reasonable standard of care, and when you purport to treat someone for a condition they don’t have, that would be medical malpractice.”
Lieu acknowledged that the bill faces an uphill battle in the current Republican-controlled Congress. But he stressed that it’s important to start the conversation now. The bill currently has no Republican cosponsors.
“The public views conversion therapy as quackery, as something that harms people,” Lieu told BuzzFeed. “Eventually, I believe Congress will catch up to that, but you do need to start somewhere, so that’s why we’re introducing this legislation.”