Hawaii today became the 12th U.S. state (plus the District of Columbia) to ban the use of so-called conversion therapy, a.k.a. “ex-gay therapy,” on minors.
Democratic Gov. David Ige signed the bill into law Friday, after both houses of the legislature approved it in the past two months. The measure, Senate Bill 270, prohibits state-licensed professionals from “engaging in, attempting to engage in, or advertising the offering of sexual orientation change efforts on persons under eighteen years of age,” as the bill’s text reads. It defines “sexual orientation change efforts” as including efforts to change gender identity or expression.
Violators “shall be subject to disciplinary action by the appropriate professional licensing authority,” according to the bill text. The law takes effect July 1.
“Overwhelming scientific research has shown that ‘conversion therapy’ is not effective and frequently has lasting, harmful psychological impacts on minors,” Ige said in a statement on the signing. “This practice is neither medically nor ethically appropriate. For our LGBT youth, this therapy often results in feelings of isolation, depression and hopelessness — and has no place in Hawaii, or in the lives of our youth.”
Health organizations that have repudiated conversion therapy include the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which works against conversion therapy through its Born Perfect campaign, praised Hawaii’s action. “There are currently more than 700,000 survivors nationally, and an estimated 77,000 teenagers across the country will be subjected to conversion therapy over the next five years,” said a statement released by NCLR Born Perfect strategist Mathew Shurka. “As a survivor, I know how harmful conversion therapy can be, and I could not be happier that Hawaii has taken this important step to protect the health and safety of its LGBTQ youth from this terrible practice.” Shurka and several other survivors had shared their stories with the legislature while the bill was under consideration.
The Human Rights Campaign applauded the move as well. “So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a dangerous and inhumane form of child abuse that has no basis in science and is uniformly rejected by every major mental health and child welfare organization,” said a statement released by HRC president Chad Griffin. “We thank the many advocates, allies, parents, and survivors who spoke out against this abusive practice and urged their elected officials to adopt these crucial protections. We also thank Governor Ige and the Hawaii State Legislature for enacting this legislation to protect the state’s LGBTQ youth.”
Hawaii has a reputation for being liberal and LGBT-friendly — in the 1990s it looked, for a time, like it would be the first state with marriage equality, but that did not come to pass. The state does, however, have a large population of Mormons and evangelicals, who helped thwart some past efforts to ban conversion therapy. This year, though, the bill sailed through.