The Ignorance About Gay Lives Was on Full Display at the Colorado Capitol

The legislator asked, “Ma’am, what evidence do you have to support your claim that all or most LGBT people were abused as children?” The witness replied, “Well, there are a number of high-profile gay celebrities that have recently admitted they were abused. Have you seen Milo Yiannopoulos, who recently admitted this in a press conference?”

This is an actual exchange that took place Tuesday at the Colorado State Capitol, where I was honored to testify in support of House Bill 17-1156, which seeks to make it illegal for licensed psychologists and psychotherapists to practice so-called reparative therapy on minors in the state of Colorado. Similar pieces of legislation have been challenged and ultimately upheld in states across the nation, including New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Oregon, and Vermont. I was one of almost a dozen LGBT+ people tapped to support this bill put forward by by Rep. Paul Rosenthal, a gay legislator who has supported this legislation for three years in a row.

As an LGBT+ Christian who has experienced the damaging effects of conversion therapy, I entered the chamber today with a sense of urgency, knowing that what I experienced during my undergrad years at the conservative Moody Bible Institute was nothing compared to the severe damage that so many other LGBT+ people have incurred as a result of extreme versions of reparative therapy. I believe in the importance of this bill because I believe in protecting children from being forced into therapies that perpetuate the lie that they are somehow flawed or disordered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Though I spend a majority of my life working at the intersections of conservative faith communities and the LGBT+ community, I wasn’t prepared for the kinds of things I heard during the testimony of our opposition. Besides the stunning reference to the alt-right xenophobe Yiannopoulos, a number of other shocking statements were made that made me realize just how much more work was left to do. One of the most deplorable remarks came from Jeff Johnston of the fundamentalist Christian organization Focus on the Family, who said during his testimony, “Therapy isn’t a science, but an art.”

And we are supposed to believe that this man and this organization are out to protect the well-being of our children? Someone who believes not in the science of psychotherapy — which overwhelmingly concludes that reparative therapy is ineffective in “treating” homosexuality — but who believes in the art of therapy? In what world does that statement make sense? And yet it perfectly sums up the case of conversion therapy advocates.

There is simply no question about the usefulness of attempts to heal or change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Every major medical, psychological, education, and social work association outright condemns such treatments as unethical for licensed mental health practitioners. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have been published that show that conversion therapy is ineffective at best, harmful at worst to a majority of young people subjected to it. Rosenthal’s bill simply relies on the expertise of medical and mental health professionals to make the case that licensed therapists should not be practicing this type of treatment on minors.