Virginia Could Become the 20th State to Ban Gay Conversion Therapy After Bill Passes in State Senate

The state senate of Virginia passed a bill on Tuesday which, if it passes in the lower house of the legislature, would make the commonwealth the 20th state to prohibit so-called LGBTQ conversion therapy for people under the age of 18.

Senate Bill No. 245, introduced by Democratic state Senator Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon earlier this month, would amend Virginia's statutory law to state that no counselor can lawfully "engage in conversion therapy with a person under 18 years of age."

"Not only is this practice harmful to our youth developing their gender identity, but from a legal standpoint, conversion therapy is abusive given the mental health repercussions," Surovell wrote in a statement emailed to Newsweek. "This bill will protect our children from beliefs rooted in bigotry."

The bill passed by a vote of 21 to 18. All of the senators who voted "nay" on the bill were members of the Republican Party.

If Surovell's bill passes in the Virginia legislature's lower house, the House of Delegates, and becomes law, Virginia would become arguably the first in the South to officially ban conversion therapy statewide.

According to data from the Map Advancement Project, 19 states have passed statewide bans on the practice, along with the District of Columbia. Those states include all of the New England states, most states in the mid-Atlantic region, the states on the West Coast, some of the Rocky Mountain states, Illinois and Hawaii.

The most recent state to put a kibosh on conversion therapy for minors was Utah, whose governor, Newsweek reported, issued a rule outlawing the practice Tuesday—the same day that the bill passed in Virginia.

The Virginia bill defines "conversion therapy" in terms similar to other states. It refers to "any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity." This includes any effort to force a person to change their gender expression or dispose of attraction to people of the same gender.

The Virginia State General Assembly
The Virginia State Capitol on January 8, in Richmond, Virginia. The 2020 state legislative session began today under Democratic control. Senate Bill No. 245 would amend Virginia's statutory law to state that no counselor can lawfully "engage in conversion therapy with a person under 18 years of age." Zach Gibson/Getty

Conversion therapy has been largely discredited as not only ineffective, but potentially devastating to the mental health of LGBTQ youth. Multiple organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the country, have publicly condemned the practice as being based on faulty science or called for it to be banned nationwide.

The bill is just one of many "progressive" pieces of legislation that have made traction since the 2020 session of Virginia's state legislature began on January 8. In the preceding 2019 election, the Democratic Party managed to secure majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, which has allowed for the expedited passage of some bills the Democrats have long wanted to push forward—including the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and removing a statute that prohibits same-sex marriage.

Update: 1/31/2020: An earlier version of this article mistakenly read that Senator Scott Surovell represents Rocky Mount, Virginia.