Bill that bans 'conversion therapy' clears Minn. House committee

A crowd gathers during a press conference.
A crowd gathers during a press conference about the joint launch of proposed municipal ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul restricting the practice known as conversion therapy in October 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2019

A Minnesota House panel advanced legislation Wednesday to ban conversion therapy in the state.

Members of the Preventative Health Policy Division advanced the bill on a 7-4 vote.

Under the bill, mental health professionals would be prohibited from providing conversion therapy to vulnerable adults and clients under age 18.

A ban is long overdue, said Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, the bill’s author.

“Conversion therapy includes a range of dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or efforts to change a person’s gender identity or expression,” Hollins said. “It preys on the fear of parents and does irreparable harm to children and young adults.”

The proposal goes next to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee. A companion bill in the Minnesota Senate is awaiting action.

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Lawmakers heard testimony from supporters of the bill and some opponents.

Hunter Cantrell, a former legislator who sponsored of an earlier version of the ban bill, said he views conversion therapy as a fraudulent pseudoscience.

“We expect our health care practitioners in the state of Minnesota to offer the highest standard of care, not to harm patients, especially not children,” Cantrell said. 

But opponents believe the bill infringes upon religious freedoms.

Daren Mehl of Agape First Ministries told lawmakers that parents should be free to seek out help for their children.

“This is religious tyranny and an attack on the rights of parents,” Mehl said.

Some Republican members of the panel also said the bill goes too far. Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said he prefers the term “reparative therapy” and believes it should remain available.

“We’re not trying to attack people per se, as much as to address behaviors and the opportunity to get the type of counseling you want,” Gruenhagen said.

Hollins said it’s a mistake to think of conversion therapy as a legitimate form of counseling or medicine.

“Conversion therapy is not a therapy at all,” Hollins said. “It’s been denounced by every mainstream medical and mental health association, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. This bill would prevent teens and young adults from being coerced into treatments that are ineffective and lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse and even suicide.”

DFL Gov. Tim Walz last year signed an executive order aimed at banning conversion therapy and called on state lawmakers to pass legislation to make the ban permanent.