Bill proposes to place restrictions on conversion therapy statewide

Bill proposes to place restrictions on conversion therapy statewide
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 10:53 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A bill is being considered in the state legislature that centers around prohibitive regulations on conversion therapy in Alaska.

The House Health & Social Services Committee listened to testimony Thursday on HB 43, a bill sponsored by Democrat Rep. Sara Hannan of Juneau with support from five other democrats; Anchorage Rep. Jennie Armstrong, Anchorage Rep. Zack Fields, Anchorage Rep. Donna Mears, Anchorage Rep. Genevieve Mina and Bethel Rep. CJ McCormick.

Hannan said that her work on HB 43 was inspired by her time working to combat suicide on a suicide prevention council. She says they found that previous experiences with conversion therapy were a common denominator in many of the cases she reviewed.

Hannan called it a licensure regulation bill; HB 43 would amend existing statutes so that Alaskans under 18 years of age cannot be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed state health care practitioner, or treatment that “seeks to change the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behavior or gender expression or reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attraction or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”

Hannan clarified that the bill doesn’t completely outlaw gender affirmation therapy, but provides acceptance and support, after Fields, Rep. Jason Ruffridge, and Rep. Jesse Sumner asked for more information about what exactly the bill prohibited.

In addition to Dustin Morris, the Alaska area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the committee also heard testimony from Mathew Shurka of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who spoke about a harrowing conversion therapy experience.

“When I came out to my father, my father made it clear how much he loved me, and I had nothing to fear. My father began to search for a therapist to understand what my coming out would mean for me and my family,” Shurka recalled, speaking about how he first met with a health practitioner who endorsed conversion therapy.

“In meeting with a licensed therapist, my father was told being gay was nothing more than a mental illness, and that same-sex attraction — as it was called — can be cured, and that all people are innately heterosexual or cis-gendered, meaning the gender they were born into.”

Shurka said he was ordered to not speak to his mother and sister by the therapist, a rule that lasted for three years.

“Conversion therapy has no scientific backing whatsoever,” he said. “It’s not only quackery, but it’s extremely harmful.”