DENVER • A Colorado House committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill banning gay conversion therapy for those under 18.
In a sometimes emotional hearing, the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee voted 8-3 to approve HB 1129, on its fifth and likely final time.
In a nod to potential legal questions, the bill was amended to remove language banning the advertising of conversion therapy. That’s due to a Jan. 30 decision by a Tampa, Fla., federal magistrate who ruled against a city ordinance that banned conversion therapy. In the ruling, the judge decided the plaintiffs who claimed talk therapy was a form of free speech had a good chance of winning their case.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia ban conversion therapy for minors.
Wednesday’s hearing drew a handful of opponents and about 20 supporters, many of whom tearfully shared their experiences with conversion therapy.
Mathew Shurka said he went through five years of conversion therapy, from the time he was 16 until he was 21. When he told his father he was gay, his father supported him at first. Then a therapist told his father there was no such thing as homosexuality, and that Shurka had either suffered trauma or had too many female role models. During his time in therapy, he was forbidden from talking to his mother or two sisters, and it eventually broke his family apart, he said.
Shurka, who now runs a national campaign against conversion therapy, said he considered suicide.
“I believed it would work, but I didn’t understand how horrifying the effect” of it would be, he told the committee.
Conversion therapy has been discredited by both the American Psychiatric Association or the American Psychological Association, according to Dr. Sarah Bergamy of Denver.
“I believe this is abuse,” Bergamy told the committee. “You have to prohibit it in the strongest way possible.
Training on conversion therapy is no longer provided in medical settings because it is an invalidated process, witnesses told the committee.
Among those who opposed the bill was attorney Jenna Ellis with the conservative Christian group Colorado Family Action. Ellis said the bill is unconstitutional, and that the General Assembly is overreaching. And while the bill only addresses licensed therapists, Ellis said she believes the law will eventually be extended to those in the faith community.
But the bill’s sponsors, Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, pointed out that state law already protects faith-based, unlicensed counselors who operate out of churches and other religious organizations.