An Iowa House version of a conversion therapy ban will not progress after a Wednesday morning subcommittee, though both Republicans on the subcommittee expressed support for doing something on the issue in the future.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) sponsored the legislation. He spoke first and referenced the many emails he had received in the last 12 hours.
“For anyone shocked this bill is here, they don’t know me very well,” he said. “Most ideas deserve the opportunity to have a bill be debated. And, if somebody comes to me and puts up a good reason, whether I agree with it or not, it’s more than likely going to get a study bill and a subcommittee. I believe that’s the best way that this Capitol should work, is that all ideas get hearings like this.”
Nate Monson, the executive director of GLBT Youth In Iowa Schools Task Force (Iowa Safe Schools is the group’s ficitious name), thanked Kaufmann for working with the group. Monson said the group is undecided on the measure because it believes it could be improved.
“Five years ago, anyone saying that us working together on a conversion therapy ban would be knocked over with a feather,” Monson said. “This is something I think is, one, bipartisan.”
The first ban was signed into law by former Gov. Chris Christie.
“This issue still impacts kids today,” Monson said. “We just want to keep pushing the language to protect more kids.”
Damian Thompson, public policy manager at GLBT Youth In Iowa Schools Task Force and former employee in Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office, said they’d like to see more protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids in foster care.
“We’d also like to see conversion therapy defined,” he said. “We need to call it what it is — physical and emotional abuse. That’s a key point for us.”
Daniel Sunne of The FAMiLY Leader said the group is against the bill because it discriminates against viewpoints, threatens child mental health and fails to protect against abusive therapy.
“The only thing this bill as written does is prohibit mental health professionals from expressing certain beliefs,” Sunne said. “House Study Bill 698 as written allows a male minor to continue identifying as female, but bans mental health professionals from telling that same minor that sex is dependent upon biology.”
Sunne said this is especially frightening as most children with gender dysphoria who are allowed to go through puberty naturally will accept their actual gender.
“Conversion therapy is a straw man, at least in Iowa,” Sunne said. “The reason everyone opposes conversion therapy is basically no one does it.”
Sunne referred to a 2016 decision in which advocates attempted to have a ban on conversion therapy go through state departments. That was rejected, though, because there were no complaints or reports about conversion therapy.
“In fact, advocates were unable to document the practice of conversion therapy by an Iowa licensed physician,” Sunne said.
Denise Rathman with the National Association of Social Workers said that this is not a new issue. The group has opposed conversion therapy since 1992. But, she said, it isn’t the licensed professionals who Iowa needs to worry about because they have standards and a code of conduct.
Rathman said a social worker responds to a client’s request for reducing same-sex attraction by providing research and information about the lack of effectiveness, harm caused and ethical concerns with conversion therapy.
“Suggesting clients can change their sexual orientation or gender identity is not supported by the research,” she said.
Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference said his group appreciates language that provides protection for religious workers, though they don’t perform that kind of therapy.
Amy Campbell with the Iowa Primary Care Association and Iowa Psychological Association said the group is undecided but strongly opposed to conversion therapy.
Tamara Scott spoke on behalf of Concerned Women for America and Faith and Freedom. She also said she was speaking as a mother and grandmother. Scott said she’d love to see this bill swapped out with a bill to ban conversion therapy treatment of minors.
“Now we see minor children being placed on puberty blockers and on other cross-sex hormone pills,” she said. “Life-altering in their irreversible damage. Bone density, brittle bones, 20-year olds with hip replacements, shredded meniscuses, lowering of IQ — it doesn’t just stop puberty from expanding and growing, it stops the body from growing and development.
“We don’t allow kids to get tattoos or smoke, but yet we’re letting them take these treatments and start processes that will have irreversible, life-altering issues.”
She questioned who the bill is targeted at if not licensed individuals. Parents in Ohio, Scott added, are losing their children because they are not doing gender-affirming treatment. It’s putting a wedge between parents and their children.
“I hear folks in this building talking about not getting between patients and their doctors, that’s exactly what a ban on conversion therapy would do,” Scott said. “Define what it is and who all we are going after with a bill like this.”
Scott said she’s talked about the negative effects of electroconvulsive therapy for years on the radio as a barbaric practice.
“If it’s barbaric, if it’s dangerous, ban it for everyone,” she said.
Keenan Crow with One Iowa Action said the group, another lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender advocacy group, is undecided, but appreciates the bill being brought to a subcommittee.
He said the difference between the bill Scott referenced, which bans gender reassignment treatment and surgeries for minors, and this conversion therapy ban is that the conversion therapy ban is in line with every major medical association.
“The reason we’re concerned about language in this bill is because mental health therapy is defined very ambiguously,” he said.
Conversion therapy, he said, is not mental health therapy.
“It’s a discredited practice, a fraudulent practice,” he said.
While some people believe the treatment can be effective, Crow said “all of the evidence points in the opposite direction.”
Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund said she is also registered neutral.
“What I’m mainly concerned about in this bill is a couple of things,” she said. “One is the religious exemption. We believe that conversion therapy is child abuse. When you put in language that exempts an entire group of people, you’re really saying in your opinion it is OK for child abuse to happen and we very much disagree with that opinion.”
Leslie Carpenter of Iowa Mental Health Advocacy said electroconvulsive therapy is the only thing that brought her son out of psychosis and is not the horrible thing it used to be.
“In my son’s case, it was life-saving,” she said.
Carpenter too had concerns about exempting religious people from having any liability for counseling minors on the issue. She said three years ago she went to Solon and educated people on supporting folks in congregations with mental illness. Afterward, she said, one minister approached her and was distraught because he had no understanding that mental illness was a brain-based illness.
“He was counseling people who were expecting his expert opinion about their mental illnesses very incorrectly,” she said. “Counseling people who subsequently killed themselves. There’s a fair amount of ignorance out there about mental illness and a lot of ignorance about these issues. Allowing them not to be liable for counseling children, perhaps incorrectly, terrifies me.
Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) said she has been concerned about this issue as an elementary school counselor and working with students who weren’t sure who they were.
“We need to make sure that kids feel that support whether they’re in a school setting or religious setting or in their home setting — they need to have those supports available to them so that they can figure out who they are and feel safe in doing that,” Mascher said. “I’m not supportive of the religious exemption for that reason. I feel like that is state-sanctioned child abuse.”
While there are religions who disagree with her, she said the medical society has determined it is not a mental illness and is not something that should try to be changed.
“We do a lot of damage to children when we try to change them,” Mascher said. “For that reason, I can’t support this version of the bill.”
Mascher said she is certainly supportive of banning it completely.
“It’s not effective, it doesn’t work and it is absolutely abusive,” she said.
Rep. Joe Mitchell (R-Mount Pleasant) said he appreciates Kaufmann’s willingness to bring this issue forward and have the conversation. He said he thinks lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights and issues “should be bipartisan.”
“That’s why we’re here discussing this topic and that’s why Rep. Kaufmann and myself thought that this was a good idea to have this subcommittee to be able to have this discussion and get consensus from all of you,” he said. “Obviously there’s work to do. I just think it’s important we’re recognizing the bipartisan manner and how we should act dealing with these issues.”
Kaufmann thanked GLBT Youth In Iowa Schools Task Force for working with him on the proposal.
“I am a big believer in breaking up conversations that are kept quiet and making them public,” Kaufmann said. “I believe that is important on all issues on all sides. That’s why I author a lot of controversial bills. I don’t think we should hide and be scared of conversations.”
Kaufmann said he is not an expert, but is closer in knowledge today than a year ago because of his work with GLBT Youth In Iowa Schools Task Force.
“The main objective I wanted to achieve today has been achieved,” he said. “We’re having a public subcommittee where all sides of this issue, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, social workers, religious organizations, LGBT organizations can all come and be in the same room and we’re all having a civil conversation about conversion therapy. This is a good thing.”
Kaufmann said the bill was modeled after legislation in Utah, where a conversion therapy ban passed, though it took a lot of maneuvering.
“I’m not saying it’s flawless,” Kaufmann said. “I’m not saying this should become law as is. I recognize problems and changes that would need to be made, but that is where this started was Utah. I will take all of the suggestions under advisement. I’m going to pledge to publicly continue to work on this issue, to continue to have these conversations so that everybody, no matter what side you’re on, feels like you have a voice in crafting this conversation.”