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A Kentucky Republican With a Gay Son Wants to Ban Conversion Therapy

Alice Forgy Kerr

A bill to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors in Kentucky is coming from a surprising source.

The lead sponsor of the measure is a conservative Christian Republican, Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington, who has a gay son and says the horrors of the practice were driven home when she saw the movie Boy Erased.

“I think it’s religion gone bad,” Kerr said of conversion therapy in a recent interview with Louisville TV station WHAS.

Being gay “can’t be fixed and it shouldn’t be fixed,” she said. “In my Christian faith, I am taught that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, wonderfully made, and I believe that very strongly.” She has two sons, age 33 and 31; the younger one is gay.

“We’ve got to understand that, wherever we come down on the issue of homosexuality, this bill is about banning conversion torture,” she added.

Kerr introduced her legislation, Senate Bill 85, this month with cosponsors Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican, and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat. It would bar mental health professionals from performing conversion therapy, designed to turn LGBTQ people straight or cisgender, on people under 18, or on adults who have a “mental or physical dysfunction” that prevents them from managing their own affairs. Those who violate the law would be subject to discipline, and the legislation would also keep public funds from going to conversion therapy.

In a speech introducing the bill, Kerr said such therapy is based on the “false premise that being LGBTQ is a mental illness,” The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports. She called conversion therapy “discredited” (as it is, by every major medical and mental health organization) and “barbaric,” and noted that it is linked to higher rates of suicide. She urged anyone wanting more information about the practice to see Boy Erased.

The 2018 film, based on Garrard Conley’s memoir, is about a gay youth sent to conversion therapy by his conservative Baptist parents (his father is a minister). It portrays such therapy as horrific and abusive.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of conversion therapy on minors by licensed professionals, as have numerous cities and counties. Kerr acknowledged her bill may have an uphill battle, as both the House and Senate have Republican majorities, and she is one of the few Republicans to support such legislation. But she’s willing to be patient, and she sees an opportunity to educate members of her party.

“We can keep working this,” she told WHAS. “A friend of mine once said that instant coffee ruined the world. You have to let things percolate.”

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