(WM) Getting a head start on next year’s legislative session, opponents of “conversion therapy” presented their case Aug. 25 to shield Kentucky youngsters from a practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Resuming their bipartisan alliance, Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr and Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner referred to conversion therapy as a discredited practice with potentially dangerous consequences. Kerr denounced it as “conversion torture.”

During an interim legislative committee meeting, they promoted legislation for the 2021 session of the GOP-dominated General Assembly. Similar legislation stalled earlier this year.

The proposal would prohibit licensed mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy with people under age 18. The same ban would apply for adults deemed to lack the capacity for responsible decision-making. The bill’s supporters also want to block public money from going to any agency in Kentucky involved in conversion therapy.

In opposing the measure, representatives from The Family Foundation said it would impede free speech and religious rights protected under the Constitution and would strip parents of their right to choose the care they deem best for their children. The bill is one-sided because it only seeks to block people from seeking counseling for unwanted same-sex attractions, said Daniel Mingo.

“These same individuals can receive help if they want to be gay,” he told lawmakers. “But if they want to live a heterosexual life, following their religious convictions, they’re out of luck.

“That is discrimination,” he added. “All people should have the choice to pursue counseling options that align with their personal life goals, and not be under government control.”

Kerr said many well-meaning parents hope to “pray the gay away in their child.” She referenced Bible scripture in promoting the legislation and called it a “pro-life” measure. She pointed to studies indicating that youngsters undergoing conversion therapy are more likely to commit suicide.

“The facts remain that the practices to change sexual orientation, gender-identity attraction are dangerous, discredited and sometimes deadly,” Willner said.

Willner acknowledged the measure, if enacted, would not completely stop conversion therapy in the state, but said lawmakers need to take whatever steps they can to protect youngsters.

The committee heard from Zach Meiners, who underwent conversion therapy while in high school.

He called it a “shame-based” practice and said it taught him to inflict physical pain on himself anytime he had “a gay thought.” He said he dealt with depression, anxiety attacks and was suicidal.

“I was methodically taught to hate myself,” he said. “And, ultimately, that being gay was a problem that needed to be fixed in order to live a normal and healthy life.”

Meiners, now a filmmaker, said he considers himself “lucky to be a survivor.”

Cole Cuzick, also representing the conservative Family Foundation, said the bill would impede a teenager’s attempts to seek counseling.

“If this student were to ask their school counselor, ‘What does our faith say about sexuality and relationships?’ What would this law allow that licensed counselor to say to this teenager who shares his faith?” he asked.

The measure, if enacted, would “cast doubt upon simple discussions of one’s faith in regards to sexuality, marriage and gender,” he said.