Senator, organizations advocate to end conversion therapy in Virginia

Locals advocate to end conversion therapy in Virginia
Updated: Jul. 17, 2018 at 6:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Virginia senator and local organizations are continuously working to end conversion therapy in the state.

Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity, typically used on people who identify as gay.

Some of the common tactics used include cognitive and behavioral practices by counselors, but extreme measures can vary - from electrical shock therapy to shaming.

Ted Lewis is the Executive Director of Side by Side, an organization dedicated to creating supportive communities where Virginia's LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong and flourish.

"With conversion therapy, there is a lot of different things that can happen to a young person," Lewis said. "First and foremost, there is a lot of shame that comes with the person being told they are not okay who they are, and on top of that, the tools used to get them to try and convert can be electric shock, hypnotizing the person, lots of shaming and sometimes even forced intercourse. It's very difficult for that young person to handle all of that happening to them, repeatedly, over and over again."

Adam Trimmer, 28, of Prince George and Richmond experienced conversion therapy. Trimmer struggled with being gay for as long as he can remember.

"Growing up religious, you learn that there is something inside of you that you're supposed to hate," Trimmer said.

At the age of 18, he tried to commit suicide. Trimmer says he confided in a pastor, who recommended conversion therapy. From there, Trimmer started seeing a Christian counselor and attending a number of "conversion therapy" organizations in the Richmond area and conferences. He did so for eight months.

"As it went on, I could feel I was slowly dying inside," Trimmer said.

After a conference called the Exodus International Freedom Conference in 2008, Trimmer decided to stop.

"While I was there, I was in a youth ministry. I learned that some of these kids were there against their own choosing. Me, having this presented to me as a recovery program, I was so confused as to how that could happen. Then I learned some of those kids went through shock therapy, and I was just like, this can not be right," Trimmer said.

"It's important to know that when a young person goes through conversion therapy, a conversion doesn't actually happen," Lewis said. "In fact, Dr. Robert Spitzer, one of the founders of conversion therapy, apologized to the LGBT community, saying he's sorry for the hurt and pain he's caused over the years."

Senator Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax of Virginia, introduced a bill in this year's General Assembly aimed at preventing children from undergoing the controversial therapy in Virginia.

He chose children specifically, believing they are victims when forced to undergo conversion therapy by their parents.

The bill would have prohibited a licensed medical professional in Virginia from performing the therapy on children under 18. He said such treatments stem from a belief that homosexuality is a mental illness, a view that was discredited years ago.

Surovell said existing research shows that children who experience conversion therapy are eight times more likely to commit suicide and six times more likely to have depression. He also said conversion therapy has been discredited by a number of medical professionals, including The American Psychological Association.

The bill was killed early on, but just this year, more states have signed on to abolish conversion therapy for minors.

Right now, there are 13 states banning the therapy, including California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

In early May, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the conversion ban in California, having advocates cheering.

Not everyone was for the conversion therapy ban bill. One of the fiercest opponents is The Family Foundation.

The Family Foundation's mission, according to their website, is "To empower families in Virginia by applying a biblical worldview and founding principles to culture and public policy."

Victoria Cobb, the president of the foundation said, "We don't think government should be regulating what counselors can and cannot do. We believe in freedom and if people are struggling with unwanted same sex attraction they should be able to seek out help for that. In Virginia we have a strong stance parental rights are really important and that parents are ultimately the best person, in the best position to help their children. But counselors are working with the child, not the parent. We believe it's an important process."

The senator who introduced the bill also introduced it back in 2015. He says he will introduce it again in the future, in hopes that this practice is abolished in Virginia.

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