Lawmaker wants state to examine 'gay conversion'

Under a newly introduced proposal, Washington would study whether the practice is risky and whether it should be regulated.
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Under a newly introduced proposal, Washington would study whether the practice is risky and whether it should be regulated.

A new Washington House bill would set up a panel to determine whether so-called "gay conversion therapy" works, whether it is harmful, and whether its use with minors should be regulated.

Gay conversion therapy is a psychological effort to turn a gay or lesbian into a straight person. Information was unavailable Thursday on the extent of this practice in Washington.

Rep. Marko Liias , D-Edmonds, introduced the bill Thursday. He is one of the five openly gay members of the House. The bill's 14 co-sponsors include the other four — Reps. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines.

"Conversion therapy has been criticized by psychologists, counselors, social workers and numerous other health professionals for its potential harm," Liias said in a press release. "Studies have shown that these practices have no basis in science or medicine, and it is vital that we bring together the proper health experts to better understand the impacts as we wait for the courts to rule on this important issue."

A 2012 California law banning the use of therapy to change the sexual orientation of minors was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has placed a hold on the law until it rules on the appeal.

On its website, the American Psychiatric Association says all major mental health organizations are leery about therapies intended to change sexual orientations. The association says:

There has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation ... is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

Elsewhere on the site, the association says that the practice creates risks for individuals:

The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.  Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction.

Liias'  bill would create a 15-member panel of predominantly mental health experts to study the matter. He wants to include at least one practitioner of gay conversion therapy on the panel, which would have a Dec. 15 deadline to complete its studies.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8