TACOMA, Washington — Yesterday, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington dismissed a legal challenge seeking to invalidate the State of Washington’s 2018 law protecting minors from conversion therapy by state-licensed therapists. Conversion therapy is a dangerous and unethical practice that claims to change sexual orientation or gender identity and has been shown to make LGBTQ children who undergo it nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide. In one recent study, more than 60% of children subjected to conversion therapy attempted suicide.
The court dismissed a case filed by therapist Brian Tingley, who argued that the law violated the free speech and religious liberty rights of therapists who wish to perform conversion therapy on minors. The court ruled that Washington has a compelling interest “in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harm caused by conversion therapy.”
The court held that the law regulates a dangerous treatment, not speech, and therefore does not violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The court also rejected the religious liberty claim, ruling that state governments may require licensed health care providers to follow professional standards and that the law applies equally to all providers, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Twenty states and DC have enacted laws protecting minors from conversion therapy, and four states, “We are grateful yet another court has recognized that states can regulate licensed therapists to ensure that they do not subject LGBTQ minors to this deadly practice,” said Mathew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect, the campaign to end conversion therapy. “Twenty states and more than 100 localities have enacted similar laws, and professional mental health organizations are stepping up their efforts to warn parents about the serious harms caused by these fraudulent and unethical therapists, who often take advantage of parents’ lack of information about LGBTQ issues to convince them that they can prevent a child from growing up to be LGBTQ. In fact, there is not a shred of scientific evidence that any therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and attempts by therapists to do so are extremely dangerous.”
Every major medical and mental health professional association, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, has condemned conversion therapy. Peer-reviewed research has repeatedly shown that this practice does not work and puts patients at risk of severe and lasting harm.
“Yesterday’s decision by Judge Bryan correctly held that the Ninth Circuit already decided this issue seven years ago in Pickup v. Brown, when it rejected a virtually identical challenge to California’s conversion therapy law,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter (he/him). Licensed mental health care providers do not have a constitutional right to inflict harm on minor patients, any more than doctors have a right to prescribe medications that are ineffective and unsafe.”
Added Minter: “So-called ‘conversion therapy’ has already destroyed the lives of far too many LGBTQ people, and it is past time for every state in this country to take action to prevent it. If there were any other health care treatment that provided no benefit and put children at such a high risk of suicide, every state would step in to ensure that not one more child was harmed. The result should not be any different simply because the group affected is LGBTQ children and their families.”
NCLR intervened in the case to defend Washington’s conversion therapy law on behalf of Equal Rights Washington, the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization and a primary supporter of the law during the legislative process. Equal Rights Washington is represented in the case by NCLR and Raegen Rasnic of Skellenger Bender, P.S.
Born Perfect is a survivor-led program created by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) in 2014 to end conversion therapy by passing laws across the country that protect LGBT children and young people, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices. bornperfect.org
Equal Rights Washington is Washington’s statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) advocacy and community outreach organization. ERW’s mission is to ensure and promote dignity, safety, and equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Washingtonians. www.equalrightswashington.org