The Potluck

Minnesota House passes bill to ban ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

By: - February 21, 2023 7:40 am

Rep. Athena Hollins takes questions about HF16, a bill that would prohibit conversion therapy with children or vulnerable adults. Photo by Andrew VonBank/Minnesota House.

The Minnesota House on Monday passed a bill to ban “conversion therapy” for minors and vulnerable adults, a discredited practice aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  

The bill, introduced by Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, passed 81-47. The companion bill will soon be up for a vote in the Senate, according to Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, the Senate bill’s chief author. 

“It comes from the notion that people can be abused into conformity,” said Rep. Brion Curran, DFL-Vadnais Heights, who called conversion therapy “abusive brainwashing.” 

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

Gov. Tim Walz restricted conversion therapy for minors through an executive order in 2021 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.  

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

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, introduced a bipartisan amendment to tighten the language defining a therapist-client relationship in the bill so clergy and family would not be impacted by the bill. The amendment passed. 

On the House floor, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to include gender affirming care in the ban. Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, who introduced the amendment, compared gender affirming surgeries to female genital mutilation. 

Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, took issue with what he called “free speech violations” in the bill and introduced an amendment to delete the section of the bill that says advertising conversion therapy as successful is consumer fraud. The amendment did not pass. 

“I love religious expression and the power we have in this country — the freedom that we have — to worship as we see. But this freedom is not a freedom to harm,” said Rep. Andy Smith, DFL-Rochester, who has a degree in theology. 

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng was a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They studied legal studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.