Thousands of people lined the streets along the route of the 2018 Bangor Pride Parade. Credit: Gabor Degre

A bill to ban the use of gay conversion therapy, a malicious practice that has been deemed ineffective, has been passed by Maine lawmakers and is sitting on Gov. Paul LePage’s desk. He should sign the bill into law, or allow it to become law without his signature.

So-called gay conversion therapy, or reparative therapy, doesn’t work. Worse, it is based on the damaging premise that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a defect that needs to be fixed. As a result, it often leads to shame, depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide among those its practitioners seek to “convert.”

Ryan Fecteau knows this first-hand. The representative from Biddeford shared his own heart wrenching story with lawmakers earlier this year. In college, he led the campus LGBTQ student group and was president of the student body. He talked frequently with a school administrator who he trusted. One day, the administrator suggested that Fecteau “see beyond your gay identity” and suggested he read a book that recommended conversation therapy.

“This openly gay young man who was finding his way in life, and who had found the guts to come out to his parents, and the confidence to lead a LGBTQ student organization, become student body president, and work as paid staff on a marriage equality campaign, could not shake the self hatred, unworthiness and haunting message that he was broken after a trusted university administrator told him, in essence seek ‘reparative therapy,’” Fecteau told his colleagues. He contemplated suicide.

Several years later, he sponsored LD 912, which bans state licensed professionals from using conversion therapy for people under 18. The bill is cosponsored by several Republican lawmakers.

“I know there are young people who are far more vulnerable than I was back then,” Fecteau testified. “I want protect them from the harm that would come from a trusted professional telling them, one way or another, that they are broken, that the core truth of who they are is wrong and even disgusting.”

Conversion therapy has been condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers, among other medical groups.

LGBTQ youth are already vulnerable to family rejection and experience homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers.

If LD 912 becomes law, Maine will join 13 other states that forbid the use of the supposed therapy on children. Republican governors in six states have signed such bans into law. No governor has vetoed a ban passed by a state legislature.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who signed his state’s ban into law in 2015, said that, like some lawmakers in Maine, he was concerned about interfering with parental control of their children’s health. Ultimately, those concerns were outweighed by concerns about harming children through the dangerous therapy.

“The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts,” Christie said in a news release.

“I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,” he added.

The same concerns should prompt LePage to allow LD 912 to become law.

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