Washington became the first state of 2018 to ban so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited and abusive practice that purports to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In passing the legislation, Sen. Marko Liias, a lead sponsor for the bill, said it sent “a loud and unequivocal message to LGBTQ youth” that “there is nothing wrong with you.”
But last year, a therapist who is a pro-conversion proponent sued the state over the law, “claiming the law violated his rights to free speech and religious liberty under the U.S. Constitution,” the Advocate reported. But certain actors have used “religious liberty” as a cover for stomping on LGBTQ progress. The outlet said Brian Tingley’s lawsuit was dismissed last year. This week, Tingley lost again when a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel again upheld the law.
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“In relying on the body of evidence before it as well as the medical recommendations of expert organizations, the Washington Legislature rationally acted by amending its regulatory scheme for licensed health care providers to add ‘[p]erforming conversion therapy on a patient under age eighteen’ to the list of unprofessional conduct for the health professions,” the court said.
Kim Wardlaw and Ronald Gould, two judges from the three-judge panel, were appointed by Democratic administrations. The third judge, Mark Bennett, was appointed by the previous administration. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), which represented Equal Rights Washington in court, said the panel relied on “a 2014 decision in which the Ninth Circuit rejected a similar challenge to a virtually identical California law.” Equal Rights Washington joined State Attorney General Bob Ferguson to defend the law.
“We are thrilled by today’s decision, which ensures that Washington’s lifesaving law can continue to be enforced and that LGBTQ children in Washington will not be subjected to these discredited practices, which have been rejected as unsafe by every major medical organization in this country,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter.
“Laws like Washington’s are critical to protecting minors and parents from being harmed by unethical therapists who falsely claim to be able to prevent a child from being gay or transgender,” said Mathew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect, NCLR’s campaign to end conversion therapy.
“As a survivor of more than five years of conversion therapy, I know firsthand how damaging these practices are to young people and their families,” Shurka continued. “The medical community has rejected these practices because they are harmful, ineffective, and unnecessary. Being LGBTQ is not a mental health disorder. Trying to change such a fundamental aspect of a person’s identity is not only impossible, it is profoundly dangerous and causes serious, lasting harm.”
It’s harmful all-around, with harms associated with the debunked practice costing upwards of $9 billion annually, a peer reviewed study said in March. The study, published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, said the direct costs of the debunked practice itself are estimated at about $650 million annually.
“However, the study finds that the harms associated with the practice, such as substance abuse and negative mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts, are significantly higher—an estimated $8.58 billion annually; bringing the total estimated cost of conversion therapy to $9.23 billion annually,” Trevor Project and Cytel researchers said.
Just this past August, Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order directing agencies in the commonwealth to discourage so-called conversion therapy. While not an outright ban, it does take a significant step to protect LGBTQ people. “This discriminatory practice is widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals and has been proven to lead to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ youth subjected to it,” Wolf said. “This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them.” NCLR’s statement doesn’t say whether Tingley intends to appeal, but legal observer Mark Joseph Stern tweeted that a favorable ruling could ultimately await Tingley at the highest court.
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Pennsylvania governor issues order better protecting LGBTQ kids from debunked conversion therapy
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