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Conversion therapy bans continue to be discussed in Oklahoma

Mercedes Mehling / Unsplash

Proposed state legislation to prevent local governments from placing bans on sexual orientation change efforts, more commonly known as “conversion therapy” did not pass in 2015 and failed again this year.

Despite having been a key organizer and advocate for banning conversion therapy in Norman, on the day the city council would vote on whether to pass the ban, Sage Mauldin wasn’t there. He was at his parents’ house in Bartlesville where he grew up and where, at 17 years old, he went through conversion therapy at a church just a few blocks away.

"As the Norman City Council voted unanimously to ban the practice, I felt so much relief," Mauldin said. "And after that, I left my parents' house, I walked to the church, and I stood outside the church and I just sobbed."

Mauldin said the passing of the ban was more than just a moment of personal catharsis.

"There was an audible sigh of relief, especially within the LGBTQ youth community in Norman," Mauldin said.

The city’s ban prohibits licensed mental health providers from practicing conversion therapy on minors. It does not apply to adults or to conversion therapy attempts by unlicensed people in religious settings.

The ban was put into effect in June 2021. Less than a year later, Representative Jim Olsen’s HB 2973 proposed undoing the city’s ban and preventing any other local governments from banning conversion therapy in the future.

 Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland)
Oklahoma House of Representatives
Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland)

In a committee meeting, Olsen explained his legislation would not allow for aversion therapy tactics such as electric shock or inducing vomiting to eliminate or reduce homosexual thoughts and feelings, which are commonly associated with conversion therapy.

"House Bill 2973 is a bill of liberty, freedom, and choice," Olsen said.

However, other forms of conversion therapy are also harmful.

Dr. Ilan Meyer, the principal investigator for the Generations study, which was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and examined the health and well-being of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals across three generations, said the study found LGB individuals who experienced conversion therapy were almost twice as likely to attempt suicide than their peers who did not.

"The recommended approach is to support them, and to provide them with tools to learn to basically accept themselves. And the principle of conversion therapy or sexual orientation change effort, is the exact opposite," Meyer said. "It’s basically telling them you should not accept yourself, you are a really bad person, a sinful person, and you should do everything you can to avoid being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender."

This finding is in line with the opinion of medical organizations such as the American Psychological Association which opposes sexual orientation change efforts on the basis they are harmful and unnecessary as minority sexual orientations have not been classified as mental illnesses since the 1970s.

In addition to being harmful and unnecessary, Mathew Shurka, cofounder of Born Perfect, an organization that helps state and local governments create laws to ban conversion therapy, said it is not a legitimate form of therapy. No one is licensed to do it.

"There is no accredited practice called 'conversion therapy'. There are people who are licensed by their state as a mental health practitioner, and even though they're not taught to do conversion therapy - it doesn't exist in a curriculum at any college or university - they are using their credibility by saying, 'Oh, I'm a therapist.' And they're claiming that they can cure you or cure someone of being LGBTQ," said Shurka.

Born Perfect worked with Sage Mauldin and the City of Norman to create the city’s ban last year. Mauldin said he has corresponded with Olsen and that he wants him to respect the decisions of local governments.

"Let the people protect the people," said Mauldin.

Olsen's bill passed through committee, but did not receive enough support to become law this year. For now, Norman’s ban will stay.

LGBTQ+ Mental Health Resources:

  • The Trevor Project - crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for young LGBTQ+ people ages 13-24. (866) 488-7386.
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline - (800) 273-8255.
Hannah France is a reporter and producer for KGOU.
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