Democrats, LGBTQ advocates seek ‘conversion therapy' ban

Minnesota Democrats and LGBTQ advocates on Thursday pushed to ban a practice in which therapists try to change the sexual orientation of gay people.

The crowd was so big, a House committee room reached capacity and supporters of the measure spilled out into the hallway. They are seeking to make Minnesota the 16th state to prohibit the controversial practice, though the bill faces an uncertain path in the divided state Legislature.

Three people who said they had undergone so-called conversion therapy when they were younger all spoke in favor of the bill. 

“Ban this discredited practice that is preying on young people, it’s preying on parents that want to help their kids by giving them false hope,” said Roger Sanchez, who said he saw a conversion therapist for two years while growing up in California.

It’s unclear whether the practice is happening in Minnesota. 

The Minnesota Family Council, a conservative faith-based group, opposes the bill as an attack on people’s right to choose their own health care.

“Telling young people and their families what kind of counseling and care they can and can’t get – that’s not something that a majority of Minnesotans support,” said Moses Bratrud, a spokesman for the group.

A variety of health organizations have discredited the practice. During a news conference, Democratic lawmakers said it was not acceptable.

“We will not tolerate in our state any longer discredited, harmful and unscientific practices,” said state Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage.

Wil Sampson-Bernstrom, who now lives in Minneapolis, said as a teenager in Alabama he underwent therapy treatments he compared to hypnosis.

“We would target memories that they believed grounded me in the lie of homosexuality,” Sampson-Bernstrom said.

The bill has support in the DFL-controlled House but faces an unlikely path in the Senate, where Republicans are in control. Bratrud dismissed the crowd of supporters at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“There might be some activists here today at the State Office Building, but I don’t think that’s going to go far,” he said. “I don’t expect this to get to the governor’s desk.”