Nevada lawmakers hear testimony on conversion therapy bill

CARSON CITY — Mental health professionals would be prohibited from conducting sexual preference or gender identity conversion therapy on children under a bill heard in a Nevada Senate committee Monday.

Senate Bill 201, sponsored by state Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, and a host of other lawmakers, would ban the practice, which has been denounced by major medical groups and condemned by critics as leading to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide among LGBT young people exposed to it.

“The devastating consequences are very well-documented,” Parks told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy. “The medical establishment agrees conversion therapy does not work and can be harmful.”

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting it, Parks said, and more than a dozen states are considering similar legislation.

“To me, conversion therapy is nothing more than getting LGBTQ youth to hate themselves,” Parks said.

Justine Johnston, a 65-year-old transgender woman, said gender identity “is not a condition.”

“It is a characteristic, like being left-handed or blue-eyed.” she said. Trying to alter someone’s sexuality is “like teaching a pig to sing.”

“You can’t do it, and it annoys the pig,” Johnston said

Opponents of the bill said it would infringe on religious liberties and a parent’s right to do what they think is best for their children.

“I am not here to defend conversion therapy; we see there is no toleration in this bill of the belief system of others,” said Janine Hansen of Nevada Families. “Our concern is this undermines the rights of parents to determine the upbringing of their children.”

Critics also questioned whether the bill would prevent religious leaders from counseling youth on sexual issues.

William Tarbell, a retired Presbyterian minister, disputed arguments that conversion therapy causes harm.

“I’m saying there is science to the contrary,” he told committee members.

State Sen. Patricia Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said there was a difference between clinical counseling by licensed mental health professionals and someone seeking spiritual guidance from a religious leader.

A similar bill in the 2015 Legislature passed the Senate but failed to get out of the Assembly.

The committee took no action on the measure Monday.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.