by Morgan Dyer
LD 1025 was an act to prohibit the provisions of conversion therapy to minors by certain licensed professionals. It was signed into law by Democratic Governor, Janet Mills, on May 29th 2019, and took affect 90 days later. Maine is the 17th state to ban conversion therapy.
So, why should you care if this does not affect you? I will tell you why. This matters because the practice of so-called “conversion therapies” have been shown time and time again to be ineffective in their efforts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of individuals they are inflicted on. They have been shown to be detrimental to those individuals, especially youths.
Many professional organizations have come out to endorse the banning of conversion therapy. Among these organizations is The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. To quote their policy on the issue from their website, “The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry finds no evidence to support the application of any ‘therapeutic intervention’ operating under the premise that a specific sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression is pathological.
“Furthermore, based on the scientific evidence, the AACAP asserts that such ‘conversion therapies’ (or other interventions imposed with the intent of promoting a particular sexual orientation and/or gender as a preferred outcome) lack scientific credibility and clinical utility. Additionally, there is evidence that such interventions are harmful. As a result, ‘conversion therapies’ should not be part of any behavioral health treatment of children and adolescents.”
Pride Portland also wrote a letter of endorsement for the ban, saying, “Conversion therapy can be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. Credible reports such as the one issued in 2009 by the American Psychological Association conclude that some of the risks of conversion therapy are depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, or a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self. These risks are even greater for our youth.”
So if we accept a premise from these credible organizations that the practice of conversion therapy is ineffective and dangerous, that leads us to ask who specifically is affected by the passing of LD 1025? The bill only protects minors, so that means that LGBT youth under the age of 18 are protected by this ban. LGBT adults are not protected, despite the possibility of finding themselves in coercive circumstances.
This ban also affects state licensed professionals who may be practicing or hoping to practice conversion therapy with the intent to change sexual or gender identity on youth under the age of 18, but not on adults who may seek out conversion therapy due to the genuine belief that they are sick, or who may be coerced by trusted family or friends into seeking out conversion therapy for their sexualities or gender identities. These people are still unprotected in the state of Maine, and rural LGBT people are generally at a greater risk.
Parents that may want to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of their children are affected as well. Whether it is due to strongly held religious convictions or misinformation, parents will not be allowed to legally put their children through conversion therapy in the state of Maine.
A short background on the practice of conversion therapy and the movement to ban it is neccesary for context. Conversion therapy has been practiced in the U.S. for over a century. Academic literature has documented instances of conversion therapy being used as early as the 1890 and continuing through the present day.
To illuminate the barbarism of the practice I’ll quote a report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. The report notes that talk therapy is the most common practice, but goes on to say, “Some practitioners have also used ‘aversion treatments,’ such as inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis; providing electric shocks; or having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when the individual became aroused to same-sex erotic images or thoughts.” Imagine doing any of these things to a heterosexual child!
There have been some big historical roadblocks to success in the movement to ban conversion therapy in the state of Maine. The road has been long. Before LD 1025, there was LD 912 “An Act to Clarify the Scope of Practice of Certain Licensed Professionals Reguarding Conversion Therapy.”
Governor Lepage vetoed LD 912, saying that it was “bad public policy”. He also raised concerns about religious freedom, and seemingly unrelated concerns about female genital mutilation in his official veto letter. The Maine House failed to override the veto by a vote of 79 to 61, short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto.
In an article from USA Today, State House Republican spokesman was quoted as saying, “There have not been any recorded cases of this happening in Maine,” in what might be interpreted as an effort to make the legislation seem like a waste of time. This seemed to be a sentiment held by Governor Lepage and some other members of the Maine GOP at the time.
At this point, you may be asking yourself; who were the key players in this effort to ban conversion therapy in the state of Maine? Representative and Executive Director of Equality Maine and House Majority Leader, Matt Moonen, was one of the biggest proponents of this bill. Matt Moonen represents Portland.
In an article from maine.gov about the signing in of LD 1025 Rep. Moonen is quoted as saying; “This law is the result of two years of tireless work by advocates, medical and mental health care providers, and lawmakers alike. It is so refreshing to have leaders who understand that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is not a defect or disorder that can be treated, and we’re so grateful to Representative Ryan Fecteau and Governor Janet Mills for their leadership.”
The bill was sponsored by Ryan Fecteau, Assistant House Majority Leader who represents Biddeford. Both Moonen and Fecteau identify as being gay. Moonen lives in Portland with his husband, and that makes their stance and tireless advocacy for LGBT youth all the more meaningful.
The last important player to note in the passing of this ban would be the new Governor, Janet Mills. Having Mills in this position of power made this ban possible. Lepage shot it down and the shift in political climate that came with Mill’s election to office was the turning point needed to make this dream a reality.
LD 1025 finally passed on May 29th 2019. In a tweet Governor Mills wrote, “Today I signed into law a bill banning conversion therapy, a widely-discredited practice that has no place in Maine. Today, we send an unequivocal message to young LGBTQ people: we stand with you, we support you, and we will always defend your right to be who you are.”
Representative Fecteau also spoke about the achievement, quoted in an article found on maine.gov as saying, “The legislature and Gov. Mills are sending a clear and concise message to our LGBTQ young people: You matter. You belong. And you are loved for who you are…So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is irresponsible and harmful. I am so proud that Maine is standing tall to affirm that no young person needs to ‘fix’ what is not broken.”
I’ll conclude with my own personal opinion; conversion therapy is an archaic practice that should have been outlawed in Maine a long time ago. As an LGBT person myself, I can say from personal experience that we are not sick, therapy can not “fix” us because you can’t fix what’s not broken.
I know from first-hand experience that LGBT youth are incredibly vulnerable to discrimination and easily mislead by misguided notions from authority figures about what their sexual orientations or gender identities mean. This group of people is far more likely to suffer from mental illnesses due in large to external prejudices and social isolation.
For those reasons as well, LGBT youth are more likely to experience homelessness and unemployment. I am strongly of the human agenda, and engaging in practices that seek to change the sexual orientation or gender identities of children through methods as seemingly mild as psychological coercion or as harsh as electroshock therapy, is not fitting with that agenda.
The passing of this ban was a historical moment and I actually took the day off from school to go and listen to the hearing in Augusta with another queer person. It is for all of these reasons that I am incredibly grateful that this piece of legislation passed and was signed into law by our Governor in May. There is no place for this practice in the state of Maine.