Ban Conversion Therapy? Supporters Say It’s Child Abuse; Opponents Say Banning It Is Child Abuse

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BOSTON — A bill calling for a statewide ban on doctors and therapists assisting minors in converting from one sexual orientation or gender identity to another drew passionate testimony from opponents and supporters during a hearing Tuesday.

Opponents of the therapy, like Samuel Brinton, told lawmakers about their own experiences. Brinton, a Massachusetts native who now lives in Washington D.C, said his parents made him undergo treatment when he was a boy in order to halt his attraction towards other males. In his testimony, Brinton recalled going through electroshock therapy, in addition to treatment involving wires hooked up to his fingers that would heat up when he was showed pictures of men touching other men, and cool back down when the images were replaced by photos of men touching women.

“Thankfully I lied,” Brinton said. “At some point the pain was so bad I had to tell my parents the treatment had worked.”

Yet at Tuesday’s hearing, none of those who testified against the measure said they supported any of the modes of treatment that individuals like Brinton had been subjected to years ago. Quite the opposite, actually, as testimony from individuals like Dr. David Pickup, whose practice specializes in a form of treatment known as reparative therapy, which he said does not involve any aspects of coercion.

“I find it appalling that my service that I offer to both children and adults is already evidently determined by some on this committee as being malpractice,” Pickup said at one point, referring to earlier descriptions. “It’s offensive, and I know I’m a bit angry, but so would be if you were told you abuse children.”

Pickup, who labeled the proposed legislation itself as a form of child abuse, told members of the Committee on Children, Families, and Disabilities that the bulk of his youngest patients are individuals who have experienced some form of sexual assault or related trauma.

“This destructive bill makes it illegal for little children to receive therapy for unwanted same-sex actions caused by sexual abuse by older teens or pedophiles,” he said. “Can you imagine a heterosexual boy walking into a therapist’s office only to be told it’s illegal to give him the therapy that resolves his sexual attraction experience from an older man?

“Do you know what it feels like to be sexually abused and heterosexual, and abused by a budding pedophile — I do, it happened to me at 5 years of age, and I had to suffer the consequences.”

Pickup said “authentic reparative therapy” helped change his life.

“I changed,” he added. “And yet with all of the sexual abuse reported in Massachusetts, somehow this bill is here.”

Pickup and others who spoke in opposition to Bill H. 1190 waited more than two hours as dozens of the bill’s backers, which ranged from a representative of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Boston Children’s Hospital professionals to an Anti-Defamation League official and transgender rights activists, testified first.

Pickup’s testimony followed that of Walt Heyer, who shared with lawmakers his life story about how he underwent a male-to-female transition, complete with sex reassignment surgery, only to experience a period of regret and despair that nearly caused him to take his own life.

Pickup pointed out that none of the bill’s 80-plus sponsors bothered to consult with anyone in his profession.

“Real reparative therapy is about the rise of the authentic, secure gendered self,” he said. “It’s about resolving the emotional issues that caused them to have these sexual and transgender feelings.

“For them, their feelings are not genetically inborn.”

Pickup is also a representative with the American College of Pediatricians, a 500-plus member group that describes its mission as being aimed at “enabling all children to reach their optimal physical and emotional health and well-being.”

At the beginning of the hearing, state Representative Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro) reminded committee members prior to testimony that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the American College of Pediatricians as a “hate group.”

Heroux pointed out that the bill has gone before the committee two times previously, with each submission failing to garner a favorable review needed to pass it along to the House floor.

“The so-called act of conversion therapy or reparative therapy and other types of therapy that are intended to influence or change somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity is essentially tantamount to child abuse,” Heroux said. “Someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity is core to who they are, essentially we are talking about human rights.”

Heroux later described the American College of Pediatricians as an organization that “spreads false science and garbage research.”

“It’s essentially a religious organization that operates under the guise of a legitimate medical organization,” he added.

Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, testified in opposition to the bill, telling committee members that the measure would “remove the ability of children and their parents to seek desired counsel from licensed mental health professionals to help address unwanted sexual attraction and gender confusion.”

Beckwith also recalled earlier testimony from those who had been subjected to traumatic treatments such as shock therapy and nausea-inducing drugs.

“I would ask the authors of this bill if that’s what they want to prevent, then write a bill that mentions those techniques instead of one that is so broad and covers everything, including talk therapy,” he said.

Beckwith later mentioned the bill’s chief sponsor, state Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), who on Monday saw a different committee hold hearings on another bill of hers that would give doctors more influence in determining a patient’s needs for mental health services, stripping some authority away from insurance companies.

That bill says — and I quote — ‘medically necessary services for mental health treatment shall be determined by physicians in consultation with patients’ — and I would say that’s what we’re asking for on this bill,” Beckwith said. “Allow patients and therapists to determine what works for them.”

State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) in earlier testimony countered that the legislation equates to a “consumer protection bill for parents, who are in a situation where they are confused and are looking for help.”