Five states currently ban "ex-gay" therapy, sometimes called “conversion” or “reparative” therapy, designed to turn LGBT people straight or cisgender, but one campaign hopes to get that number closer to fifty.
The 50 Bills 50 States campaign launched this month with a fundraiser that more than doubled its initial goal of $5,000. The aim of the group is to introduce legislation banning so-called “conversion therapy” in every state in the nation.
“Conversion therapy is a scam. It starts with the idea that being lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or queer is a mental illness. That’s wrong,” says Samuel Brinton, campaign co-founder and survivor of conversion therapy said in a press release. "Our sexualities and gender identities are gifts that should be celebrated. Instead, these snake oil salesmen abuse children, attempting to change who they were born to be. They are born perfect and any therapist that says otherwise shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near kids.”
The 50 Bills 50 States campaign is building a grassroots movement to help move initiatives in every state, engaging with local communities to build statewide support for legislation. The campaign says it is aware that it might not get a bill passed in all 50 states, but it hopes to drive conversations and help assist more states to consider banning "ex-gay" therapy.
“I’m overjoyed that we have way more people wanting to be involved in this than any of us thought would happen,” Josh Chretien, Director of Outreach for 50 Bills 50 States, tells The Advocate. “And it’s happening very quickly.”
The concerns that more LGBT youth will be subjected to these inhumane practices come from the overt and covert support for conversion therapy and other anti-LGBT policies, found in the Republican platform. Though Republican National Committee Chair and President-elect Donald J. Trump's Chief of Staff Reince Priebus denies the claim that the platform condones the controversial and harmful practice. There's been increase in anti-LGBT violence since the election, one that has been particularly present in schools.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence is no friend to the LGBT community. While governor of Indiana, Pence passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allowed businesses and individuals the right to discriminate against LGBT people based on religious grounds. The law was later "fixed" so that it would not allow discrimination against LGBT people. On the campaign website for Pence's election in 2000, many have described a statement on the site as "dog-whistle" language that supports conversion therapy. Pence’s staff denied the allegation to the The New York Times, but given his history, many LGBT advocates are skeptical.
A politician in Pennsylvania creatively introduced a new law in the state seeking to ban the practice, known as the “Prevention of Emotion Neglect and Child Endangerment” aka P.E.N.C.E. The city of Pittsburgh is also pushing legislation to ban the practice for minors in the city.
According to the National Council for Lesbian Rights website, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon and Vermont currently ban "ex-gay" therapy statewide for minors, in addition to Washington D.C. and other municipalities.
“We need to start that conversation at the base level of every state," says Chretien, who admits the hard work and potential fight the campaign will face, especially considering Trump has appointed several anti-LGBT people into his cabinet.
“Pulling people together to forge that from the ground up now, is the best way of going about doing that,” Chretien says.
But the organizers hope that through engaging local communities, they’ll change minds, and laws.