Bill to Protect Conversion Therapy in Oklahoma Passes State Committee

Legislation ,

Earlier this week, Representative Jim Olsen introduced House Bill 2973 to the Oklahoma State Legislature, which he referred to as the “Parental and Family Rights in Counseling Protection Act.” As summarized in the OCI article, “6 Bills Mental Healthcare Professionals Should be Watching in 2022,” HB 2973 would protect conversion therapy from being prohibited in the state. Yesterday, the State Powers Committee passed the bill after a debate on the language of the law and potential effects it could have on Oklahoma youth.

The video above is from the February 9th, 2022 State Powers Committee session in which multiple bills were read and passed. Among them was HB 2973. In the meeting, Rep. Olsen outlined the goals of his bill. He reported that the object of the bill was not to determine if conversion therapy, which he referred to as “change therapy,” was good or bad, but that it was the right of Oklahomans to seek the services if they choose.

In the meeting, Rep. Olsen stated that in order for “change therapy” to be implemented with a client under the age of 18, the therapist, the parents, and the child must all consent to the treatment. Rep. Olsen also quoted research projects and statements from Dr. Paul Sullens and Dr. Michelle Cretella, who have stated that conversion therapy is not harmful and can change a client’s sexual orientation. Rep. Olsen then referenced a previous statement by the American Psychological Association that indicated there was no evidence to suggest that conversion or reparative therapy is harmful.

Representative John Waldron, who was the sole member of the committee to vote against the bill, was quick to inquire about the age of the APA statement. According to Rep. Olsen, the statement was from 2009. However, the APA has since released a position against the use of conversion or reparative therapy to change sexual orientation. Rep. Waldron also referenced the Trevor Project, an organization that advocates for the ending of conversion therapy practices in the United States due to its harmful potential consequences, including increased risk of suicidal ideation and behaviors among those subjected to it.

Along with presenting dated information from the APA, Rep. Olsen also appeared to present misleading discussion points throughout the meeting. The Southern Poverty Law Center has spoken out against Dr. Paul Sullens for promoting pseudoscientific studies on LGBT+ families that were not published in peer-reviewed journals. The SPLC also reported that Dr. Sullins has been an active member of recognized anti-LGBT+ hate groups. The SPLC has also made statements against Dr. Michelle Cretella for her advocation against LGBT+ adoption and marriage equality, as well as her push for conversion therapy practices and tendency for her organization to promote pseudoscientific research on the LBGT+ community.

As previously stated, in the meeting Rep. Olsen stated that in order for “change therapy” to be implemented when a client is a minor, the child, the parents, and the therapist must all consent to treatment. However, that distinction is not outlined in the actual bill and as Oklahoma law now stands legal guardians can consent to outpatient mental health treatment on behalf of a child under the age of 18. This would likely mean that even if a child did not consent to conversion or “change therapy,” a parent would still likely be able to consent on their behalf.

The American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have all issued statements against the practice of conversion or reparative therapy. Though therapists must act within their ethical codes, unlicensed practitioners, such as some religious counselors or coaches, may not have such codes to adhere to when administering counseling services.

The APA states there is no evidence to suggest sexual orientation can be changed and the National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that those who have undergone conversion therapy experience a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Currently, conversion or reparative therapy is banned in 20 states. To learn more about HB 2973 and for contact information for the office of Rep. Olsen, visit the state legislature website here.