Conversion Therapy Proposal Stirs Strong Feelings

Feb. 8, 2019, 4:21 p.m. ·

Sen. Megan Hunt testifies on her conversion therapy bill (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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A proposal to ban advertising or charging for “conversion” therapy that tries to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity drew strong views from both sides at a legislative hearing this week.

A large crowd filled the Capitol’s cavernous Warner Chamber – former home to the Nebraska State Senate – and spilled into the balconies for Thursday night’s more than three-hour-long hearing on Sen. Megan Hunt’s bill (LB167) about conversion therapy. The bill defines that as efforts to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, including, quote “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

Among those supporting the proposal was Aaron Aupperle, who said he went to conversion therapy as a teenager to try and deal with being gay.

“They staged a mock funeral for me in which they shamed me for having an affair with a man from work. According to the leader, I had a history of destructive behavior. As I laid on the table with my eyes closed, other clients approached and expressed eulogies of anger, shame or disappointment,” Aupperle recounted.

“I was told after the funeral that if I returned home, I would most certainly die. And if I decided to attend a gay-affirming church, that I would be creating my own brand of religion so I that I could be accepted by God,” he said.

An opponent of the bill, Gordon Opp, told a different story. Opp said as a young man, he lived as a homosexual, but was conflicted. Opp said he got counseling and met the woman he’s been married to for 40 years, having three children and five grandchildren.

“I have absolutely, positively no regrets regarding the decision I made to work through my conflicting sexual orientation. I’ve had the life that I wanted to have. I spend a lot of time with my grandkids, and I’ve been truly blessed,” Opp said.

“I’m so glad that I found a counselor who helped me move in the direction I wanted to go. I can’t imagine that that help I longed for, and received, could now be illegal in Nebraska,” he added.

The proposal would prohibit providing conversion therapy to people under 18, and prohibit advertising or charging anyone for it, regardless of age.

Glenn Smith executive director of Camp Witness Bible Conference Association in Long Pine, Nebraska, said his organization runs camps that people pay a fee for, and the bill could put those camps in legal jeopardy.

“We have young people who come to us who are struggling with decisions in their life, who are concerned about how they are going to fit into society. And our goal is to take them to the Scriptures and to teach them what we believe the Bible teaches about a relationship with Him, and about human sexuality,” Smith said.

Because of the prohibition on charging people, he said, “I believe that we could be in violation of this, because we take fees and we do not necessarily encourage them to follow this lifestyle.”

Scott Barker, Episcopal bishop of Nebraska, said the bill is not a threat to religious freedom. “Should this bill pass every Nebraska will still have the right to go find a counselor, from their own faith tradition if they wish, and to work out the tender and sometimes complex questions of how to apply what their faith community teaches to their own lives and actions,” he said.

“What passage of this bill will prevent is advertising for and charging money to attempt conversion therapy… LB167 is not about curtailing religious freedom. It is about regulating a business,” Barker added.

David Pickup, who provides what’s called “reintegrative” therapy in his practice near Dallas, Texas, said the bill could prevent some people from getting the help they need.

“Can you imagine a boy walking in a therapist’s office to be told that it’s illegal to give him the therapy that really does resolve his sexual attractions – his homosexual attractions – that result from an abuser? That happens in my office every week -- except that they get the help that they need,” Pickup said.

But Dr. Joan Daughton, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, said the kinds of therapy covered by the bill are not well-grounded. “Conversion or reparative therapies rely on the false premise that homosexuality or gender diverse identities are pathological. Variations in sexual orientation and gender expression are normal components of human development. They are not pathological,” Daughton said.

“There is also no scientific evidence that change in one’s sexual orientation are even possible,” she added.

The Judiciary Committee took no immediate action on the bill. Hunt said Friday she’s likely to name it her priority, putting it near the top of the list for debate if it gets out of committee.