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Proposed legislation could ban conversion therapy

Wil Sampson-Bernstrom testifies before the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Feb. 13 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Hunter Cantrell, right. Photo by Andrew VonBank
Wil Sampson-Bernstrom testifies before the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Feb. 13 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Hunter Cantrell, right. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Wil Sampson-Bernstrom underwent four years of pseudo-therapeutic treatments intended to rid him of his attraction to men, including regular, hypnosis-like treatments that left him with permanent holes in his memory.

“I know, to this day, there are spots in my brain that when I try to remember my life, my family,” he told the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Wednesday. “My parents and I were lied to and fraud was committed against my family and it’s happening today in Minnesota … please protect us.”

HF12 would prohibit conversion therapy – also known as “reparative therapy” – for vulnerable adults and anyone under the age of 18.

“There is nothing therapeutic about conversion therapy,” said Rep. Hunter Cantrell (DFL-Savage), the bill sponsor.

Approved 10-6, the bill’s next stop is the House Commerce Committee. Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls) sponsors a companion, SF83, which awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

Sampson-Bernstrom and other survivors of conversion therapy described how they were told that they were defective, abnormal, disgusting, perverted, that they would die of AIDS, and that they were doomed to live lonely, promiscuous lives without a chance of true love unless they changed.

House Health and Human Services Policy Committee - part 1 2/13/19

Many medical organizations condemn conversion therapy, as therapy is used to treat the symptoms of mental illness and being LGBTQ is not a mental illness, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota.

Attempts to “treat” sexuality and gender identity don’t work and only lead to problems including depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and suicide, she said.

“This is not about religion. This is about stopping … malpractice,” said Dr. Andy Johnson, a psychology professor at Bethel University.

But many people expressed concern over the wording of the bill, saying that several elements of the language are too broad and could limit a person’s ability to determine their own treatment objectives in healthy, non-coercive environments with licensed professionals.

Several testifiers described open, encouraging, mental health support that helped them reconcile their religious beliefs with same-sex attractions.

“I was honored and loved and given the power of choice and dignity to think for myself,” while in therapy, said Nathan Oyloe, who chooses to live as a heterosexual man, has been happily married to a woman for 14 years and has three children.

He is also a pastor and has worked with many young people who want to bring their sexual orientations and faith into alignment. But if anyone didn’t want to meet with him, they were simply “blessed and released,” Oyloe said.

Unbiased, patient-driven therapies that allow for personal exploration would not be prohibited by the bill, only treatment “with a distinct outcome in mind,” said Margaret Charmoli, representing the Minnesota Psychological Association.

“That’s good therapy, that’s not what we’re against,” she said.

Several testifiers also said the bill would violate Minnesotan’s First Amendment rights and that it would inappropriately insert itself into the relationship between counselors and their clients.

Robert Roby, a mediator and licensed attorney, commented that conversion therapy might be better prohibited through the rulemaking powers of medical boards and said the bill would make it “much broader” than the limitation of abusive behaviors by professionals.

HF12 also specifies that such therapy would not be covered by medical assistance and would ban advertising or promotional materials that indicate homosexuality is a disease, mental disorder, illness or that guarantee change.


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