Hawaii becomes 12th state to ban 'conversion therapy' for LGBTQ youth

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is now the 12th state in the country with a law that prohibits therapists from offering so-called "conversion therapy" to minors.

Conversion therapy, the practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, is universally rejected by national organizations that guide accepted practices for licensed psychological professionals and is considered a pseudoscience.

But it remains pervasive in some corners.

The new law, signed by the governor Friday, applies to psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, and marriage and family therapists.

Act 13 also establishes a temporary sexual orientation task force in the state Health Department to address concerns from minors who see counseling on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The law goes into effect July 1.

"Overwhelming scientific research has shown that 'conversion therapy' is not effective and frequently has lasting, harmful psychological impacts on minors," Gov. David Ige said, in a news release. "This practice is neither medically or ethically appropriate."

Supporters of the ban say this sends a strong message about the importance of equality and self love.

Mathew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor from New York and strategist for the national Born Perfect campaign, says he received five years of conversion therapy beginning at the age of 16.

He says the therapy made him contemplate suicide.

"I was diagnosed with addiction to other males. They categorized it as addiction. And they said I had too many female role models in my life. As part of my treatment, I wasn't able to speak to my mom or two sisters for three years," Shurka said. "I wasn't willing to lose my life over this. I wasn't willing to lose my family over this. This is what conversion therapy is really doing. It's tearing apart families."

For 17-year-old Andrea Kirk, she says the new law will help Hawaii LGBT youth -- like herself -- feel safer.

"A lot of my friends had parents who aren't as accepting as mine are and they were considering conversion therapy options. One friend of mine -- a trans girl -- her parents had the brochures in the house and she was going to be sent away," Kirk said.

The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth, applauded Hawaii for adopting the law. The nonprofit says it's on a mission to ending conversion therapy in every state.

"We're seeing significant momentum to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, and The Trevor Project calls on even more states to join Hawaii in banning this barbaric practice," said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, in a news release.

When it was before the state Legislature, testimony on the measure was overwhelmingly supportive. There were a handful of people who opposed it, however, with several saying parents — and not the government — should make key decisions about a child's care.

Officials told Hawaii News Now that while conversion therapy isn't widespread in the islands, it is practiced.

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