Ever since Senator David Parks (D-Paradise) first introduced SB 353 in 2015, the Nevada Legislature has been in a heated debate over conversion therapy. Should LGBTQ youth be forced to undergo “treatment” to change sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression? Parks is carrying SB 201 this session. And for the first time ever, a conversion therapy bill was heard in the Assembly.
During our conversation with Senator David Parks earlier this month, he voiced confidence that SB 201 can make it through the Assembly this spring. For one, the Assembly Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee actually held a hearing on SB 201 yesterday. In 2015, the Republican controlled Assembly never took any action on SB 353.
“Conversion therapy is a dangerous, unscientific, unethical practice. […] Conversion therapy does not work, and can be abusive.” – Senator David Parks
In Las Vegas, Parks’ statement was corroborated by licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) Ronald Lawrence. He’s also the founder of Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada.
Lawrence pulled no punches when describing the experience of clients who survived conversion therapy. “I’ve had people with flesh burns. I’ve had people with ammonia being shoved up their noses. […] There isn’t one person I’ve treated who doesn’t have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder equivalent to that of a battlefield soldier.”
I spoke with Mr. Lawrence after the SB 201 hearing. He told me he’s treated at least 60 victims of conversion therapy. He advocated for SB 353 in 2015, and was incredibly disappointed when the Assembly took no action.
“I felt cheated. I wanted to end this abuse.” – MFT Ronald Lawrence, Las Vegas
Lawrence knows some of the individuals who practiced conversion therapy on his clients… And can’t turn them into any legal authority, as it’s still legal in Nevada. “I felt really helpless, really angry.”
Several Nevadans rose during testimony to agree with Parks and Lawrence. They asked the Nevada Legislature to accept the widespread medical consensus on LGBTQ conversion therapy and protect Nevada’s youth.
“Conversion therapy is dangerous. Conversion therapy kills.” Diana Loring, from Carson City
Later in the hearing, three Senators who voted against SB 201 in that chamber introduced an amendment to the bill. Assembly HHS Chair Mike Sprinkle (D-Sparks) asked Senators Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), Becky Harris (R-Enterprise), and Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) why they waited until this hearing to present the amendment. Harris claimed, “The language is a little bit broad,” after Hardy claimed the current bill would prevent counselors from telling kids, “Unsafe sex is risky”.
This prompted Assembly Member Steve Yeager (D-Enterprise) to issue a fiery rebuttal on Twitter. “I don’t understand why the phrase ‘behaviors’ would be removed because intervention to prevent risky acts is expressly allowed by the bill. I don’t read SB 201 as banning talk. Conversion therapy is defined as ‘any practice or treatment’.”
The three Republican Senators behind the unfriendly amendment offered faint praise for SB 201’s sponsor… And he was having none of it.
“The opposition put up a good smokescreen, and I congratulate them for that.” – Senator David Parks
At the very end of the hearing, another SB 201 opponent rose to condemn what she called an unfair hearing. Religious right lobbyist Karen England had developed a controversial reputation among California conservatives, then jumped to Nevada in 2015 to promote an anti-trans* “bathroom bill”. She reemerged yesterday to condemn Assembly HHS Chair Mike Sprinkle for not allowing opponents to present more “evidence” that mainstream medical and scientific groups have long ago debunked.
SB 201 passed the Senate on a bipartisan 15-5 vote on April 4. In the Assembly, Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) is already listed as a co-sponsor. LGBTQ civil rights activists have voiced confidence that Governor Brian Sandoval (R) will sign the bill into law should it reach his desk.