(WB) Maryland state Del. Meagan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) was having dinner with fellow lawmakers last month in Annapolis when she overheard state Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) talking about a bill that seeks to ban so-called conversion therapy for minors.
State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced Senate Bill 1028 in the Maryland Senate. Cullison sponsored it in the House of Delegates.
Cullison told Simonaire that SB 1028 was “basically dead” in the state Senate. Cullison added it was being held up by a “certain senator” who turned out to be Simonaire’s father, state Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County).
Meagan Simonaire in a speech she gave on the House floor on April 4 before SB 1028 passed said her parents suggested she undergo conversion therapy after she told them she had been in a relationship with another woman. Meagan Simonaire also came out as bisexual.
“I was in complete shock, of course,” she told the Washington Blade on Thursday during an interview at her office in Northwest D.C., noting she had less than two days notice that SB 1028 was moving in the state House. “[It was] kind of an out of body experience.”
Senator father ‘never said go to conversion therapy’
Meagan Simonaire in 2014 was elected to represent House District 31B in Anne Arundel County after she campaigned on a platform that included fighting human trafficking and advocating on behalf of homeless youth.
She is currently the youngest member of the General Assembly. Meagan Simonaire, who holds a cosmetology degree from Bob Jones University in South Carolina, is not seeking re-election.
Meagan Simonaire told the Blade she was “completely” closeted when she was with her first girlfriend, whose parents kicked her out when she was a teenager after she came out to them.
“Everything was on the DL,” she said.
Meagan Simonaire spent most of her time with her girlfriend at her home in Baltimore.
She said she brought her to a Christmas tree lighting when she was running for office. Meagan Simonaire also told the Blade that a Baltimore taxi driver once kicked them out of his cab after he saw them holding hands and was “grossed out.”
“I was already feeling guilt and shame of how I was raised,” she told the Blade, recalling the incident and what she had been taught about homosexuality.
“We never talked about being gay,” added Meagan Simonaire. “I just knew it was one of the sins.”
Meagan Simonaire and her girlfriend had already broken up by the time she was elected. Meagan Simonaire came out to her parents in January 2015 and told them about their relationship
“The following few months were the hardest, worst months of my life,” she said, noting she was suffering from depression and had contemplated taking her own life. “I couldn’t drive in the car without wanting to drive into a tree. It was horrible.”
Meagan Simonaire stressed her father “never said go to conversion therapy, we need to fix you.”
“He said, ‘You can get help. I’m going to try and help you because I love you,'”
Meagan Simonaire throughout the interview repeatedly stressed her parents are not anti-gay.
“My parents weren’t hateful,” she told the Blade. “They weren’t mean. They were broken-hearted. They were sad and that sometimes is worse because they’ve been the best parents.”
“I’ve always been my mom’s best friend and my daddy’s little girl,” added Meagan Simonaire. “It was really, really difficult at the same time and then add onto that oh, and I ran as a Republican.”
Father was ‘in shock’ after House speech
Meagan Simonaire said she listened to her father’s comments in opposition to SB 1028 before she wrote the speech that she ultimately delivered on the House floor.
“Obviously [I] wanted to be as respectful and loving as possible and not paint him as this monster, because he’s not,” she told the Blade. “But I just realized I said you know what, I have four days left in session . . . four more days in session, I knew that there was no option of me hiding who I am for the ret of my life. I’m not going to be 39 years old in my office with bills up on the wall and be single and/or hiding who I am dating. That’s not an option.”
Meagan Simonaire texted her father before she gave her speech and then put her phone in airplane mode. Meagan Simonaire said her father did not hear it because he was voting in the Senate.
“He was obviously in shock,” she told the Blade. “He didn’t hear my speech first so all he saw were these press releases going online and it stabbed him in the heart.”
“He felt really betrayed and hurt because that’s what he saw and that was the hardest thing for me,” added Meagan Simonaire. “I am daddy’s little girl and I just want him to love me and be proud of me.”
Meagan Simonaire said her father accused her of lying before she told him to watch her speech. Meagan Simonaire told the Blade he wasn’t hurt over the fact she had come out or supported SB 1028, but rather she wasn’t “clear enough on the details and how that gave a lot of room to interpret things.”
She pointed out her father had said conversion therapy can be done lovingly, which she stressed is “never going to be received well.” Meagan Simonaire also said some of the press coverage of her speech was not accurate.
“I was like I never thought that you were trying to send me away to some torture camp,” she said, referring to the conversations she had with her father after her speech. “But I don’t think it makes a difference between Christian counselor or conversion therapy when the outcome is the same.”
Meagan Simonaire acknowledged these conversion conversations were “super painful,” but she told the Blade they are slowly getting easier. Meagan Simonaire also said some of the comments that she has read about her father have been “horrible.”
“I adore him and we strongly disagree on this,” she said. “We strongly disagree that conversion therapy can be done lovingly, 100 percent, and we’ve disagreed on other things in the past too. But to say that he’s not a good father and he’s a sperm donor, you know, of course, that’s really hurtful.”
Bryan Simonaire has yet to return the Blade’s requests for comment. The Anne Arundel County Republican during an interview with Bruce DePuyt, senior reporter at MarylandMatters.org, echoed Meagan Simonaire’s criticism of how the media covered the speech.
“I’m seeing reports that we sent her to conversion therapy when she was a child,” Bryan Simonaire told DePuyt. “This was a simple family conversation when she was 25 or 26 years old. She was an adult child talking to her parents. It was one simple conversation.”
“She was dealing with depression and anxiety after she had revealed that she was bisexual,” added Bryan Simonaire. “So, she was asking for advice. We gave her some advice for Christian counseling. She decided not to go to it. She never attended. And that was the end of the conversation.”
Bryan Simonaire also described those who criticized him for recommending conversion therapy to his daughter as “so-called tolerant people.”
“They just spew hateful comments and they don’t really have all the facts,” he told DePuyt.
Meagan Simonaire hopes to become involved with LGBT rights
Eleven states and D.C. currently ban conversion therapy for minors.
The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would ban the widely discredited practice in the state. A similar measure passed in the Hawaii House of Representatives earlier this month.
The California Assembly on Thursday approved a bill that would classify conversion therapy as a fraudulent business practice in the state. Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has yet to sign SB 1028, but he publicly supports it.
“I’m so happy it’s being talked about,” said Meagan Simonaire, referring to efforts to ban conversion therapy for minors.
She told the Blade she would like to become more involved with the LGBT rights movement and efforts to fight conversion therapy.
Human Rights Campaign staffers met with her on Wednesday in D.C. Meagan Simonaire has not publicly said whether she plans to leave the Republican Party over its hostility to LGBT-specific issues.
“It’s a decision that’s going to be made,” she said. “It’s almost impossible for people to stay in a Republican Party when they are not doing the right thing and standing up for people who don’t have a voice and who are being persecuted on a daily basis and it’s 2018. It’s unacceptable.”
— Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.