State to state activists campaign against ex-gay therapy

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Advocates for LGBT youth succeeded in March in thwarting a campaign in Oklahoma to give statutory protection to those who practice so-called “ex-gay” therapy on minors. 

No major medical or mental health associations endorse the therapy, which is dangerous and characterized by some leading health professionals as child abuse.

Republican state Rep. Sally Kern introduced the Oklahoma bill, intending to legitimize conversion therapy and provide state sanction for the practice denounced by the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. Kern’s bill was the first of its kind and a direct response to the movement to outlaw “ex-gay” therapy for minors in other states.

“It’s not often that we can say defeating a piece of legislation actually saved lives, but with HB 1598, that is exactly what happened,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, a statewide LGBT civil rights group.

The bill died without reaching a vote in the House.

Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Stopping this bill was an incredibly important victory for LGBT youth in Oklahoma. So-called ‘conversion therapy’ uses fear and shame, telling young people that the only way to find love or acceptance is to change the very nature of why they are. Psychological abuse has no place in therapy, no matter the intention.”

HRC and the National Center for Lesbian Rights are working with state LGBT civil rights groups to advance legislation banning “ex-gay” therapy for minors. California was the first state to enact such legislation, followed by New Jersey and the District of Columbia, where a ban went into effect this year.

This year, efforts to pass legislation against “ex-gay” therapy are underway in the states surrounding Wisconsin — Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois — and also Virginia, Colorado and Texas.

“Time and again we see the psychological wreckage of so-called conversion therapy and it has to stop,” said Chuck Smith of the statewide group Equality Texas. “Even one-time champions of this dangerous technique have changed their minds as the evidence piles up that such ‘therapy’ doesn’t work and, worse, is dangerous.”


The National Center for Lesbian Rights based in San Francisco is campaigning to end conversion therapy — so-called “ex-gay” therapy — with a strategy that includes advancing legislation and public education.

The campaign is called #BornPerfect.

To get involved, go online to

— Lisa Neff