In past few months, the bill to ban conversion therapy for minors in New Hampshire has been passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate.
It has both Democrats and Republicans in support, but still must be signed off by Governor Chris Sununu in order to become law. The bill that was amended by the New Hampshire State Representatives refers to conversion therapy as a practice which seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation through therapeutic treatment.
Under chapter 332-L, it includes that these efforts are to “…change behaviors or gender expressions to eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”
In the past, guardians of a minor were allowed to place their LGBTQ child in conversion therapy. This typically consists of counseling on how to think and behave in a “straight” heterosexual manner. Children were told to contribute in activities that match their gender role; boys were told to take up sports because that is more masculine, and girls were told to dress pretty and participate in activities more feminine.
The bill proposes that state-licensed counselors would be banned from conducting such therapy on minors.
According to the Human Rights Campaign organization, empirical studies say that minors who undergo this therapy are eight times more likely to commit suicide and three times more likely to abuse drugs in the future.
The American Psychological Association (APA) also came out with a detailed report which concluded, “Results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through SOCE.”
Samuel Whitaker, the student president of KSC Pride — a LGBTQ support group on campus — described conversion therapy as a conceptually flawed practice. “It’s couched in language that wrongfully suggests that people’s orientations are malleable,” he said.
KSC Pride is about recognizing people’s chosen gender identity and respecting their way of life. Every spring, there is a Pride March on the Keene State campus, where members of the group will bring issues into the public’s eye and proudly support people in the LGBTQ community. As for the topic of conversion therapy, Whitaker said, “I could certainly see someone making a sign about it or creating a rally cry against it.”
However, some New Hampshire Conservative activists view this ban as an unnecessary government intrusion. According to an article by The Union Leader, opponents of the bill say it could infringe religious practices and parental rights.
Others speak out
In an interview with Manchester Gospel Baptist Church Pastor David Carlson, he said, “The way the bill is written — it’s too broad and could consequently bar people from seeking religious counseling.” These unintended consequences could harm the religious community and limit their right to express ideas that coincide with their beliefs.
“We should be able to preach, express and encourage the word of God; that is what religious freedom is about,” he said.
Keene State College psychology professor Dr. Lawrence Welkowitz is critical of the conservative testimony that conversion therapy does have some positive outcomes. He remembered Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire’s current Education Commissioner and previous Republican House Representative, testified last spring in opposition to the ban on conversion therapy. “He is clearly being guided by some interest group… he unethically pulled things out of context from the APA report,” said Welkowitz.
Edelblut claims the APA did not conduct their studies correctly and pointed out misinformation and false conclusions. “Individuals who failed to change sexual orientation, …describe their experiences as a significant cause of emotional and spiritual distress and negative self-imaging, just like you would have negative effects if you tried to quit smoking.”
He believes that the APA report selectively focused on the negative without acknowledging other outcomes, such as some patients experiencing a heightened self-esteem or a closer relationship with God.
However, Dr. Welkowitz took the time to read the APA report and saw that on page 42, it revealed that those positive feelings are clouded by depression in the long term.
The APA report stated, “Recent studies document that there are people who perceive that they have benefited from it [conversion therapy].” These benefits include happiness, self-esteem, relief and improved family relationships.
However the report concludes, “Many participants in studies by Beckstead and Morrow (2004) and Shidlo and Schroeder (2002) described experiencing first the positive effects and then experiencing or acknowledging the negative effects later.”
Dr. Welkowitz condemns Republican Edelblut on these grounds and emphasized, “He’s lying. He’s misrepresenting the data and that’s criminal.”
KSC first-year student Nicholas Moungsa shared his opinion on the matter. “It should be banned. I don’t understand how conversion therapy could be a legitimate medical treatment. It’s just completely illogical.”
Another KSC first-year student Taylor Lindquist said, “I acknowledge parental rights and people can do whatever they want… but I don’t understand how people see it’s the right thing to do.”
Governor Chris Sununu was reached out to, but could not be interviewed in time for a comment.
Katie Jensen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org