Oklahoma House state powers moved to pass a new bill Wednesday morning that would retroactively legalize the practice of conversion therapy on 2SLGBTQ+ people in the state. The bill passed 5 to 1, with District 77 Representative John Waldron (D-Tulsa) being the only opposition, and the bill will now be heard by the prosecution.
House Bill 2973also known as the Parental and Family Rights in Counseling Protection Act, was authored by District 2 State Representative Jim Olsen (R-Roland). If enshrined in law, the bill does not allow ban “sexual orientation change efforts” or “gender dysphoria resolution efforts” in the state. The law would also allow mental health or religious counselors to provide counseling on sexual orientation changes and gender dysphoria without any bans or restrictions from state or political authorities.
The bill defines sexual orientation change efforts and gender dysphoria resolution efforts as any counseling aimed at ending same-sex sexual or romantic attractions and efforts aimed at changing the expressions of gender dysphoria. gender identity. conversion therapy is generally considered to be any practice or treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity to be heterosexual and cisgender.
OU human relations professor Sage Mauldin said Rep. Olsen was elected to a “position of power” and is “now telling us to our face that he supports child abuse.” Mauldin tweeted Monday saying he was exchanging emails with Olsen about the bill. Olsen did not respond to requests for a statement from The Daily.
“This bill is a violation of people’s rights, and it’s also a violation of the safety of children in particular,” Mauldin said.
Alison Petrone, former councilwoman for Ward 3 in Norman City, also criticized Olsen’s bill.
“I can’t imagine being the author of a bill as heinous as this,” Petrone said. “I encourage everyone…to express their disgust that Rep. Olsen is even considering bringing child abuse into Oklahoma law.”
In 2019, Mauldin submitted legislation banning conversion therapy for minors in Oklahoma while serving on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. He advocated this through House Bill 2456, which was sponsored by District 88 Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City). However, Mauldin said they decided not to go ahead with the bill because he would not receive enough support at home.
In June 2021, the Norman municipal council voted unanimously to modify a municipal ordinance by adding a definition of conversion therapy and partially prohibiting the practice for minors. Mauldin said he worked closely with PFLAG, Norman Pride and Petrone on the legislation and helped urge the city council to ban conversion therapy for minors. Norman was the first city in the state to pass an order like this.
Petrone and Michael Robertson, PFLAG Norman Chapter President and LGBTQ Liaison to the City of Norman Executive, said HB 2973 can undo the hard work and progress being made in Norman and would be a huge step backwards. Petrone said the partial ban was backed by both liberals and Norman conservatives.
“Even the conservatives here are very candid about their distaste for conversion therapy because, again, the numbers are documented,” Petrone said. “It’s a dangerous practice.”
Petrone said Norman’s Law protects children and parents from unknowingly interacting with people who offer conversion therapy. Children and parents can report these practices to the city, but if this bill passes, those protections would disappear, Petrone said.
Olsen said the bill could replace the Norman Ordinance if passed. During the meeting, he denied the legality of the ban to Norman, saying it “takes away freedom of expression and free choice from individuals”.
Mauldin said he understands the harms of conversion therapy because he is a conversion therapy survivor and believes all forms of conversion therapy are child abuse.
“(Conversion therapy) is deeply rooted in shame, which makes LGBTQ+ kids feel ashamed for who they are, which is unchangeable,” Mauldin said. “It’s deeply traumatic for children, and the trauma that LGBTQ+ children are subjected to through conversion therapy stays with them for the rest of their lives.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, Olsen opened by stating that the bill is not about whether conversion or “change therapy” is good or bad, but rather about authorizing the option, if parents seek it for their children.
“House Bill 2973 is a bill of freedom, liberty and choice. It deals, more specifically, with young people who may have experienced homosexuality and decide they want a different path for their life,” Olsen said. “The big question before us is: do we believe in freedom of expression and freedom of choice?”
Olsen said the bill responds to concerns that President Joseph Biden’s administration will ban conversion therapy. Freedom Oklahoma, a political advocacy organization, tweeted in response to Olsen’s claims that it is dangerous to frame conversion therapy as an option in this legislation.
According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights Born Perfect Campaign20 states and over 100 cities in the United States have banned conversion therapy. Major healthcare companies also condemned and discredited conversion therapy, citing research showing how it doesn’t work and instead creates more trauma and mental health issues for 2SLGBTQ+ people.
the American Medical Association stated that conversion therapy practices “can increase suicidal behaviors and cause significant psychological distress, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, internalized homophobia, self-blame, intrusive imagery, and a sexual dysfunction”.
The Trevor Project reported a study where only 3% of participants who had undergone conversion therapy became heterosexual, with 88% of participants having no lasting changes in their sexuality or behavior. A to study at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, people who have undergone conversion therapy are twice as likely to attempt suicide as people who have not.
Petrone said she was very worried about Oklahoma’s youth and parents, especially those in Norman. She said conversion therapy is not therapy in any way, because this abuse involves both the physical and mental torture of 2SLGBTQ+ youth.
“It tells a person that their natural inclination to be in a same-sex relationship is wrong, and it’s broken,” Petrone said. “The impact of this lasts for the rest of your life.”
The bill includes a section outlining how “aversion therapy” is not tolerated under this law. The bill described aversion therapy as exposing or requiring a person to “experience physical pain, such as electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy, touch therapy, exposure to pornography, or induction therapy of vomiting”.
Robertson said it was frustrating that the bill mentioned not justifying aversion therapy but said nothing about preventing the practice. He’s had conversations with parents who mistakenly understand that banning conversion therapy means children struggling with their sexuality or gender shouldn’t receive counseling of any kind. It’s not, he says.
“I would recommend counseling to anyone struggling with their identity, however, therapy designed to prevent someone from discovering that identity is not the answer,” Robertson said.
Caroline Sparks, senior public relations and sociologist, said the mere presence of this bill is an act of violence on 2SLGBTQ+ youth.
“(The bill) will have an effect and an impact on people if it passes, but the mere fact that it has been introduced has an effect,” Sparks said. “That means there are people in our state who believe in these practices.”
OU’s Gender + Equality Center issued a statement to The Daily, writing that the center supports people of all sexual and gender identities, and they will be monitoring this legislation to determine what effects, if any, it would have on programs based on the campus.
Outside of the emotional pain and violation of the rights of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Mauldin said the state of Oklahoma will see a ripple effect if this bill is enshrined, as businesses will be deterred from open in the state. Mauldin said OU and other universities will face a direct hit because of how the National Collegiate Athletic Association might view the state.
“The NCAA is very committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. A bill like this is completely antithetical to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Mauldin said. “It’s completely anathema to any organization, business or person in power that values people’s rights.”
The NCAA announcement in April 2021 that it will not host championship events in states that discriminate against the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The association made the threat in response to protests against the legality and fairness of trans athletes in college sports.
“A lot of this is steeped in bigotry and ignorance. Conversion therapy absolutely does not work,” said Daryl Callaway, treasurer of Norman Pride. state truly sends a message to everyone in Oklahoma’s LGBTQ+ community that we are second-class citizens.”
Both Callaway and Robertson shared how they understand the fear that 2SLGBTQ+ people and youth must feel, but reiterated that there are still communities in Oklahoma that support them. Mauldin said he tries to stay optimistic despite everything he’s been through as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
“I’m deeply committed to the struggle for queer liberation in the state of Oklahoma. I can’t do this if, if I’m operating from a place of pessimism,” Mauldin said. always telling me that one day we’re going to have an Oklahoma where people are safe.”
Sparks said she aims to remind 2SLGBTQ+ people that they have people in their corner, even if their family or religion tries to change them. Sparks said supporting each other goes beyond a bill.
“Truly and deeply caring for another human is not wielding power in hopes of changing who they are…that love is security and comfort,” Sparks said. “It’s a commitment to help create a world your loved one can thrive in. It’s bigger than the law.