The fifth time was the charm for a bill banning conversion therapy in the state of Colorado.
After stalling on four previous attempts, legislation to outlaw the discredited “pray the gay away” treatment will finally receive a full vote on the floor of the Colorado Senate. The Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee approved HB 19-1129 on Monday following a 3-to-2 vote.
If signed into law, the proposal would outlaw orientation change efforts on anyone under the age of 18. Medical providers found in violation of the statute could lose their licenses as a result.
The committee vote was a reversal from previous years, where conversion therapy legislation was effectively sent to die. The Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee—known as the “kill committee”—voted down previous bills on the subject by the same one-vote margin.
The difference? This year Democrats control the Colorado Senate.
The Centennial State was one a handful of states—including Maine and New York—which flipped their respective Senates blue amid Democratic gains in the 2018 midterms. Democrats picked up three seats in the upper chambers of the legislature, giving them what’s known as the “trifecta”: majorities in the House and Senate, in addition to a Democrat in the governor’s chair.
Last year, the former Colorado House Rep. Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor of a U.S. state.
The Democratic sea change is likely to help Colorado’s long-gestating conversion therapy ban become law after years of obstruction from Republican leadership. Had the state outlawed “gay cure” treatments when legislation was first put forward in 2015, it could have been the third state to do so after California and New Jersey. Instead, it will likely be the 16th.
Supporters of the bill say it’s better late than never.
“No young person should ever be shamed by a state-licensed mental health professional into thinking who they are is wrong,” said One Colorado Executive Director Daniel Ramos in a statement. “It is my sincere hope that… this will be the year Colorado says ‘no more’ and bans a practice on minors that is based on the false claim that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that needs to be cured.”
Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said more than 1,500 young people have reached out to the organization’s hotline from Colorado in the past year. Many are survivors of conversion therapy.
“[I]t is clear that our youth here in Colorado are in crisis. Legislation like HB19-1129 can turn that crisis around,” Brinton claimed in a press release. “As a survivor of this dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy and an advocate for LGBTQ youth across the country, I recognize that today’s Senate committee hearing is truly historic.”
Although HB 19-1129 took a groundbreaking step toward passage on Monday, it will need to make one additional leap before it heads to the governor’s desk. The bill must withstand a vote on the Colorado Senate floor. A conversion therapy bill has never been debated by the full Senate.
As HB 19-1129 awaits a hearing, supporters of the bill hope to recreate the successes of New York—another state that banned orientation change efforts this year after flipping its Senate. Although Democrats had been edged out by Republicans 32-31 in previous years, all New York Senate seats were up for reelection in November 2018. Democrats took 40 of them.
After Republicans refused to allow a vote on the bill for years, New York Senators passed the conversion therapy bill in January 2019. The vote was an astounding 57 to 4. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law just days later.
Of the three states where Democrats retaking control of the Senate paved the way for passage of a conversion therapy ban, just one has yet to make significant movement on the issue: Maine. Although its bill, LD 1025, has received 96 cosponsors in its House and Senate, the legislation has yet to receive a hearing.
After outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage became the first governor to veto a ban on orientation change efforts last year, Maine’s new Democratic governor, Janet Mills, has already pledged her support for LD 1025.
“Conversion therapy is a pseudoscientific process premised on the repugnant idea that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a disease that must be ‘cured,’” she claimed in a Facebook post during the 2018 election. “This barbaric practice has been proven to place LGBTQ children and teenagers at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.”
Advocates urged more states to take action to protect queer and trans young people from these dangerous practices, which have been denounced by every leading U.S. medical group.
“We are talking about the lives of kids,” claimed Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo), co-chair of Colorado’s LGBTQ caucus, in a statement. “This is a ‘therapy’ that has been proven to be dangerous and harmful. We have to start supporting our kids regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. They deserve so much better than this.”