DFL trifecta brings renewed effort in Legislature to ban conversion therapy for minors

By: - January 18, 2023 7:52 pm

University of Minnesota medical student Macie Darden testifies Jan. 18 before the House Human Services Policy Committee in support of HF16 that would prohibit conversion therapy for children or vulnerable adults. Photo by Catherine Davis/House Public Information Services.

Human rights advocates, faith leaders and a group of University of Minnesota Medical School students in white doctor coats were at the Legislature Wednesday in support of a bill to ban so-called conversion therapy for children.  

Conversion therapy, which has been discredited by medical and scientific evidence, attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“We are not a disorder that needs to be fixed,” said Katie Jeddeloh, one of the medical students. “We are a brave, strong, supportive community.” 

Many shared stories of harm they or a loved one experienced from conversion therapy: One medical student, Senait Judge-Yoakam, said her best friend was subject to conversion therapy in a church basement. Out of the 16 children who experienced conversion therapy in that church, her best friend is one of two who did not die by suicide, Judge-Yoakam said.  

House DFL legislators advanced the ban on a party-line vote.

“This bill will ensure LGBTQ minors are protected from harmful practices that diminish their self worth,” said chief author of the bill Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, who is a queer woman. 

LGBTQ people often experience psychological distress after undergoing conversion therapy: One study found gay, lesbian and bisexual people who undergo conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. Transgender people exposed to conversion therapy are even more likely to attempt suicide. 

Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order in 2021 to restrict conversion therapy for minors but called on the Legislature for an “outright ban.” Twenty states and the District of Columbia ban conversion therapy for minors, according to Movement Advancement Project, an advocacy group that tracks LGBTQ-related policies.  

Efforts by DFL legislators to pass a ban through the Legislature in 2019 failed in the GOP-controlled Senate despite emotional testimony from both parties. Former Senate GOP leader Paul Gazelka helped defeat the ban. Gazelka’s child, Genna Gazelka, told the Star Tribune in 2019 that their parents sent them to a therapist who is against gay relationships. Gazelka said he sent his child to therapy for healing, not identity conversion. 

Minnesotans against the ban said during the hearing that they experienced successful conversion therapy. 

Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, introduced an amendment to ban gender affirming care for minors, expressing concern about permanent surgical procedures. The amendment failed on a party-line vote. DFL legislators said the amendment was unrelated to conversion therapy and gender affirming care is not limited to surgery. 

“I am grateful to be trans, and I will oppose any effort to erase my community,” said the first openly trans Minnesota legislator, Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, in response to the amendment.

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng is a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They're in their final year at Northwestern University, where they study journalism, legal studies and Asian American Studies. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.