House sends conversion therapy ban bill to governor


DOVER — The Delaware House passed legislation Thursday that would ban conversion therapy, a practice that seeks to convince gay, bisexual and transgender individuals they are straight. By a 24-14 vote that fell mostly along party lines, the House sent the bill to Gov. John Carney.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about whether Gov. Carney, a Democrat, will sign it, but he is expected to do so.

Senate Bill 65 would allow the state to suspend or strip the license of any medical professional who attempts to convert a child or refers them to a provider in another state for conversion therapy. The measure would not affect religious organizations.

While the main sponsor admitted after the vote she is unaware of any instance of such therapy attempts in Delaware, she said the state has no reason not to ban it.

“It’s a harmful practice discredited by all major medical and psychological associations,” Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, said.

Representatives discussed the measure for less than 15 minutes, with only three people speaking. Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek Valley, was the lone Republican to vote for the proposal.

Democrats defeated an amendment from Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, that would have allowed conversion therapy if sought by a child and his or her parent. Stating the measure usurps parental rights, Rep. Collins claimed most children and teens who feel they are the wrong gender are simply confused and will naturally change their minds as they age.

Referring to the proposed change as an unwelcome one, Rep. Heffernan countered it would invalidate the purpose of the bill.

Delaware would be the 13th state to prohibit conversion therapy, with every ban coming in the past six years.

The American Psychiatric Association is opposed to all forms of conversion therapy, stating it can have a tremendous negative effect on youth.

“The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient,” the organization’s website stated.

“Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.”

That’s something Mathew Shurka can attest to.

Mr. Shurka, a native of Long Island, New York, was made by his family to receive therapy in several states from ages 16 to 21.

“I wasn’t allowed to speak to my mom and my sisters for three years, and I had to go through a defeminizing process and I come from a very conservative home. I had to only spend time with male role models, father or school, as a way to deal with my masculinity issues,” Mr. Shurka told reporters. “So that, as you can imagine, was really traumatic for me. I went through a … period of contemplating suicide.”

Conversion therapy breaks families apart, he said, noting he is still dealing with the impact of the “treatment” nine years after it ended.

The Senate approved the bill in May 2017. Asked what caused the delay in bringing the measure to the House floor, Rep. Heffernan said she did not know but was glad to see it move on to the governor’s desk.

“It’s even better that it passed during Pride Month, and I think that shows a lot for the state of Delaware to join states that support LGBTQ youth,” she said.

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