In the past ten years, the insistence that one can, by sheer force of spiritual will, change one's sexual orientation has fallen by the wayside of bad ideas. Medical associations condemned it. States banned it. In 2013, the largest religious organization advocating "gay conversion therapy" shuttered, with its founders, who were themselves gay men, apologizing for the damage they'd wrought
But children in Missouri remain unprotected from the therapy under state law, and that could change this year. Under the provisions of a bill filed Wednesday by state Representative Tracy McCreery (D-Olivette), therapists would risk losing their state-issued licenses if they engage in "any form of conversion therapy of a minor."
McCreery's bill, "The Youth Mental Health Preservation Act,"
defines the target of its ban as "any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender."
If the bill passes, Missouri would become the tenth state
to prohibit licensed therapists from attempting to "cure" young people by turning them straight. Illinois passed its own ban in 2015.
It's not clear how many licensed counselors in Missouri offer conversion therapy, but recent reports indicate the practice hasn't simply vanished in a puff of medical logic.
Last year, for instance, St. Louis Magazine
staff writer Jeanette Cooperman profiled a gay man
who was forced to undergo conversion therapy as a teenager after his parents discovered he'd been looking at gay porn. Cooperman's reporting included interviews with three Christian-oriented St. Louis therapists who see adolescents as patients. One psychologist, Perris Monrow, indicated he would try to show a patient "that there is a God and he loves the dickens out of them" and that "they don’t have to go this route. They can go the more natural way.”
Then there are cases like Caleb Marshall, who spoke to the Springfield News-Leader
in 2017 about the nine months he'd tried to "pray the gay away" with the help of a counselor he would meet "in a small, windowless room of a Springfield church."
That kind of "treatment" can wreck a child's sense of well-being, cautions PROMO executive director Steph Perkins. He notes that some families put their kids through conversion therapy without fully understanding what it entails.
"So often when a kid comes out to a family member, especially their parents, there is a shock or a fear about what that means for their family, what that means for their kids," Perkins says. "They want to help and they want to love, and they go to the people they trust the most, who are often the people in their churches or people who are medical professionals."
To be clear, even if passed, "The Youth Mental Health Preservation Act" couldn't stop parents from putting their kids through conversion therapy run by churches or unlicensed counselors. But Perkins believes it could start a larger conversation, and show parents that there are
"We do hope that by regulating where it happens with licensed medical professionals, we're able to have a larger conversion about the dangers of it happening anywhere."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com