There is an attempt being made in the Iowa legislature to ban gay conversion therapy for patients under the age of 18. The bill passed in the Senate in March of 2015 with a party line vote, 26 ayes to 24 nays, and is now sitting in the committee of Human Resources in The House of Representatives. The bill would also introduce penalties for those found practicing conversion therapy on minors.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or ‘praying the gay away’ colloquially, is a kind of treatment that many LGBT children are often forced to attend by parents. Conversion therapy is often linked to religious concerns about being LGBT, as it is seen in some religious cultures to be sinful. According to the International Society of Mental Health Nurses, conversion therapy can include, but is not limited to, individual and group therapy, electroshock therapy, exorcism, isolation and restraints.
“There is no conclusive evidence that “reparative therapy” is beneficial to patients,” according to a 2008 report by the International Society of Mental Health Nurses.
However, Joseph Nicolosi, head of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, says that conversion therapy can be beneficial to clients.
“’Sexually questioning’ teens must have the chance to investigate all of their options — not just be encouraged by counselors into adopting a gay identity and living a gay lifestyle,” according to Nicolosi’s professional website.
Senator Bill Anderson, a Republican in the Iowa Senate from Sioux City, is against the bill to ban conversion therapy in Iowa.
“Having parents that maybe have an objection to a particular lifestyle, I’m not sure if I’m phrasing that correctly but, that would take away their ability to make that decision if they wanted to have their child go see a counselor,” said Anderson. “The bill would also put that counselor in a position that, if they did do the counseling that the parents requested on behalf of their child, that they would then be subject to disciplinary action.”
Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a representative from Story County and a member of the Human Resources Committee assigned to evaluate the bill, has a different opinion.
“I have had numerous young people come to me and tell me how damaging conversion therapy has been for them, and how much they had to go through to get over that experience,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “I absolutely think it verges on abuse.”
Senator Matt McCoy, an openly gay member of the Iowa Senate, introduced the bill and voted for it when it went up on the Senate floor.
“It is the worst form of child abuse that a parent can inflict on a child,” said McCoy about conversion therapy, over the phone. “It ends tragically.”
According to Iowa Code section 232.68, child abuse is defined as, “any nonaccidental physical injury… any mental injury… the commission of a sexual offense” and more.
“Services that purport to “cure” people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people,” according to the Pan American Health Organization, a regional division of the World Health Organization.
Though Wessel-Kroeschell confirmed that there are currently no known instances of conversion therapy being practiced in Iowa, the bill is seen as a preventative measure.
The Iowa Board of Medicine is also looking into a separate petition to ban conversion therapy. Homosexuality as a diagnosis was taken off of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973, according to The International Society of Mental Health Nurses. The state Youth Advisory Council introduced the petition to the board, which has denied it for the time being so that more research could be conducted, according to a recent article by KCCI.
Conversion therapy is banned in the District of Columbia, California, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ equality group.
Dylan Shirey, an openly gay student at Drake University, agrees with the bill to ban conversion therapy from Iowa.
“Conversion therapy is wrong, it is not necessary, and I think it’s ridiculous,” said Shirey. “I don’t think it is ethically right in this day and age.”