Don’t Let Gender Politics Interfere With Clinical Care: Testimony to Senate Committee on HB 587 (2018)

Testimony provided to N.H. Senate Health and Human Services Committee 4/10/18 by Shannon McGinley, Executive Director, Cornerstone Action.

Please vote “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 587, relative to conversion therapy seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation. Cornerstone has opposed this bill since its introduction. Since our testimony to a House committee in February 2017, we have heard from professional therapists who are appalled by the effect this bill would have on them and their clients. They recognize that this bill is a ban on talk therapy. For the sake of those caring professionals and the clients they serve, we reaffirm our opposition to the bill. Although individuals continue to discover new problems with the bill, there are four areas that I intend to focus on today.

One:

As written, the bill poses a threat to licensed professional therapists who work with children and adolescents who are experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. HB 587 threatens therapists with loss of professional licensure for failing to affirm the desirability of gender reassignment, even if the gender-dysphoric client explicitly does not desire to undergo transition. The bill threatens counselors who fail to affirm the desirability of same-sex attraction, even if the client wants to reduce or eliminate such attraction.

In other words, HB 587 bans certain speech by therapists, and it disregards the right of clients to choose their own goals for therapy. It denies First Amendment protections to therapists while forcing them to ignore the needs and wishes of clients, including children, who are experiencing unwanted attractions and dysphoria.

No legislator has yet provided a satisfactory explanation of how HB 587 would be enforced. Would a state-authorized authority be recording the sessions and reviewing them to determine compliance? This would seem to be a violation of patient confidentiality. Additionally, who determines when words chosen cross the line into the definition of “conversion therapy?” Would there be any statute of limitations on complaints against the therapist for a particular comment or statement interpreted by someone as being a violation of HB 587?

Suppose a therapist is working with a child who has expressed gender confusion. If the therapist were to say “I accept and affirm you just as you are” – i.e., if the therapist were to recognize and affirm the reality and goodness of the child’s biological sex – the therapist could be charged with a violation of a statute based on HB 587. All it would take would be for someone, not necessarily the client, to complain that the therapist was trying to “change” the child’s gender identity.

Anyone who thinks HB 587 is about banning aversive and abusive therapies needs to re-read the bill, which refers to “practices,” “treatments,” and “efforts.” Physical abuse in the course of therapy is already unethical and illegal, not to mention the fact that no one has brought forth evidence that such abuse is being committed by any practicing licensed New Hampshire professional. The “efforts” that HB 587 seeks to punish include plain speech.

Two:

HB 587’s flaws are compounded by its attempt to take an ill-defined term – “conversion therapy” – and apply consumer protection law to it (see page 5 of the bill).  If you pass HB 587 in its current form, “conversion therapy” will not only be an ill-defined term in regard to professional therapists. The vague language of the law would apply consumer protection penalties to “any person…advertis[ing] for the provision of conversion therapy.”

If a bookstore were to offer for sale a book, pamphlet, or magazine describing the success a therapist has had with clients wishing to resolve unwanted sexual attraction, is the bookstore a party to the provision of conversion therapy? Based on the plain language of HB 587, if even one person were to file a complaint about the publication, the bookstore owner would have to hire an attorney to defend him/herelf. The bookseller could be subject to “enforcement, liabilities, and penalties as set forth in RSA 358-A.”

The language on page 5 does not just apply to minors. If a 45 year-old married father of 3 is experiencing any degree of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, he would not be able to seek assistance in even reducing these feelings even if he passionately desires to keep his family together. This father would not even have the right to seek help!

Three:

The Senate last year considered a bill similar to this one, SB 224, which was passed in the Senate before being rejected in the House. A key difference between SB 224 and HB 587 that the Senate bill contained this clause: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to infringe on any constitutional right, including the free exercise of religion.” Without a similar non-infringement clause, HB 587’s threat to First Amendment rights is compounded. Not only does a therapy ban affect counselors’ freedom of speech, but it could also affect freedom of religion.

Four:

In the bill’s Findings, the sponsors misrepresent the work of the 2009 American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. On page 2 of HB 587, lines 4-13 cite the Task Force’s list of possible health risks of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) for adolescents. What the sponsors and supporters of the bill have omitted is the Task Force’s own summary conclusion: that there is not enough information to draw the conclusion that SOCE efforts harm adolescents, in part because of the lack of rigorous research.  

From the APA Task Force report, page 42-43, Summary, not cited in HB 587’s Findings:

We conclude that there is a dearth of scientifically sound research on the safety of SOCE. Early and recent research studies provide no clear indication of the prevalence of harmful outcomes among people who have undergone efforts to change their sexual orientation or the frequency of harm because no study to date of adequate scientific rigor has been explicitly designed to do so. Thus, we cannot conclude how likely it is that harm will occur from SOCE.

HB 587 also omits the fact that the APA Task Force’s findings were based on studies of adults, not the minors who are supposedly the people HB 587 will “protect.”

From the APA Task Force report, page 3, Individuals who Seek SOCE and Their Experiences [emphasis added; note that minors are not mentioned]:

Although the recent SOCE research cannot provide conclusions regarding efficacy or safety, it does provide some information on those individuals who participate in change efforts. SOCE research identified a population of individuals who experienced conflicts and distress related to same-sex attractions. The vast majority of people who participated in the early studies were adult White males, and many of these individuals were court-mandated to receive treatment. In the research conducted over the last 10 years, the population was mostly well-educated individuals, predominantly men, who consider religion to be an extremely important part of their lives and participate in traditional or conservative faiths (e.g., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, evangelical Christianity, and Orthodox Judaism). These recent studies included a small number of participants who identified as members of ethnic minority groups, and a few studies included women.

 

The findings in HB 587 could leave legislators with the false impression that all professionals involved in counseling or medicine support therapy bans. Note that the right of clients to pursue SOCE therapy is supported by the Catholic Medical Association, the American College of Pediatricians, the American Association of Christian Counselors, and the Christian Medical Association.

In brief, this bill is a mess. “Conversion therapy” is broadly and poorly defined. The bill threatens the First Amendment rights of licensed therapists and dismisses the possibility that a client (minor or adult) might have unwanted sexual attraction or gender dysphoria. Enforcement could apparently be triggered by anyone accusing a therapist of saying the wrong thing; the complainant need not be a party to the therapy. The bill tramples religious freedom and is based on misleading and incomplete findings. Everything about HB 587 says that clinical care is less important than gender politics. You have the chance, and the obligation, to say no to such nonsense.

Please vote ITL on HB 587.

Thank you.