House Bill 5277, which if passed would prohibit “conversion therapy” by licensed health care professionals with respect to children under 18 years of age was popularly supported at the House Health Education and Welfare Committee meeting Wednesday evening. Conversion therapy as defined in the bill includes any practice that “seeks or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, practices which attempt or purport to change behavioral expression of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity or attempt or purport to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”
Over a hundred people, members and allies of the LGBTQ community, packed the halls outside the House Lounge, and at one point Chairman Joseph McNamara said over eighty people signed up to speak on the bill. In the end 28 people testified in favor of the bill and only one man spoke in against it.
The bill was introduced by Representative Edith Ajello, who spoke on her bill briefly before introducing Dr. David Savitzky, MD who said that conversion therapy is a “harmful treatment and Rhode Island should not be putting up with this practice against our youth.”
Savitsky said that “one of the leading proponents in the country [of conversion therapy] has been practicing in Rhode Island, a pediatrician in South County.” Savitsky did not know her name.
“Change towards a holy and healthy lifestyle that honors God is possible,” said the one man testifying against the bill. “I just sat in an overflow room with many young people and i want them to know that escape, freedom, real truth and light are realizable rather than capitulation and surrender to darkness.”
He received conversion therapy not as a minor, but in church, with fellow Christians.
Representative Moira Walsh pushed back against the idea of bringing a religious argument for conversion therapy into the State House. “I would like to thank you for coming out and taking the time,” said Walsh, “I recognize that with eighty-three in support it takes a bit of bravery to be the one person opposing and I recognize and appreciate that. As one of, I think the only, non-Christian members [of the committee] it is one hundred percent my duty to uphold the constitution and I cannot make legislation based on the Bible or the Koran just as you could not enforce a traffic violation… not all of my constituents fall under that very specific box.”
Wendy Becker volunteers weekly at Youth Pride RI and crafted her testimony from what the youth there asked her to communicate to the committee. The stories she conveyed are beautiful, tragic and important. She spoke for confident LGBTQ youth content, happy and beautiful as they are. She spoke for a youth who underwent conversion therapy to please a beloved grandmother and she spoke for a youth who sees his whole life as conversion therapy whenever he’s told to act differently, speak differently or bullied and beat up for being himself.
Becker mentioned that she knew of two local therapists who practice conversion therapy. Under questioning from Chair McNamara, she gave the name of Dr. Daniel Harrop, who ran as a Republican for mayor of Providence against Jorge Elorza and Buddy Cianci in the last election.
Harrop, on Twitter, said that wasn’t true.
@bobplain No scientific validity to this. I don't even know anyone in this area who claims to do this.
— Dr. Dan Harrop (@danharrop) February 17, 2017
Then came a steady stream of people to testify in favor of the bill and against conversion therapy.
The Rhode Island ACLU turned in written testimony against the bill on free speech grounds, however, Roger Williams University Constitutional Law Professor Jared Goldstein, “the only free speech professor in the state” explained that the bill is constitutional. “The fact the conversion therapy is often conducted through speech does not make the bill a speech restriction,” said Goldstein.
When asked about religious exemptions by Chair McNamara, Goldstein said that nothing in case law is based on religious exemptions but have all been brought on free speech grounds.
The bill limits the conduct of professionals, specifically therapists, and there is a vast body of law surrounding the regulation of professional conduct. The present bill only regulates professional therapists licensed by the State of Rhode Island, who are already regulated by a number of laws.
“The ACLU thinks there’s a free speech problem, and I love them, I respect the ACLU, they’re always here to defend free speech, but they’re not right in this case.
Here’s all the rest of the video of those who testified for the bill and against conversion therapy.