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Conversion therapy bill was always about banning speech

The stories told by Senate Bill 201 supporters were horrifying: electrodes on sensitive body parts and ice baths intended to change someone’s sexual orientation.

What’s happening behind the scenes at the Legislature, however, shows that those stories are just smoke screens for banning speech that liberals find intolerable.

SB201, sponsored by Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, would ban “conversion therapy” for minors. Listening to SB201 supporters, you’d think that conversion therapy always involves physical abuse.

But that’s not what the bill seeks to outlaw. SB201 defines conversion therapy as “any practice or treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person.”

That’s far from a ban on shock therapy. It’s a prohibition on any practice or treatment — and you can’t get broader than “any” — aimed at producing a certain result.

At the bill’s April hearing in Assembly Health and Human Services, critics of the bill pointed out that it’s written so broadly that it bans talk therapy. This would prohibit a therapist from reading the words of the pastor of Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, and Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, who said homosexuality is a sin.

“Much of the testimony you’ve heard centered around talk,” Parks said at the Assembly hearing. “This bill does not even touch on talk. This bill deals with specific issues related to conversion therapy.”

Testimony at a hearing, even by the bill’s sponsor, doesn’t trump the clear wording of the bill, so Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, has drafted what should be an obvious solution. His Amendment 641 states that conversion therapy doesn’t include counseling that “[p]rovides spiritual or other support and guidance to a person which uses speech alone.”

Ice baths banned. Talking allowed. Should be a no-brainer, right?

But I’m told Parks isn’t interested and has refused the amendment. A call to Parks’ office wasn’t returned.

On Friday, tensions around SB201 boiled over on the Assembly floor. Hansen asked for a roll call vote on a different amendment to Parks’ bill. The usually amiable Frierson lashed out in denying the request, even though Assembly standing rules show that Hansen was in the right.

Without the language in Hansen’s amendment, which may come up for a vote Monday, it would be illegal for a therapist to make the following statements:

■ “Having a Y chromosome makes you male.”

■ “Experts haven’t found a ‘gay’ gene. The American Medical Association acknowledges that ‘no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.’”

■ “The American Psychiatric Association manual on mental disorders finds that up to 97.8 percent of boys and 88 percent of girls experiencing gender confusion eventually identify with their biological gender.”

Despite Parks’ testimony, SB201 restricts what a therapist can say to his or her client. Parks’ refusal to support Hansen’s amendment says banning speech was the goal from the beginning.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Nevada section each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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