Human rights groups raise red flags over House’s conversion ‘therapy’ ban bill

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Both the Broad Committee for the Pursuit of Equity (CABE by its Spanish acronym) and non-profit organization Waves Ahead Both spoke out Tuesday against legislation in the island House of Representatives that seeks to ban so-called conversion or reparative “therapies,” during a public hearing before the House Committee on Legal Affairs.

During the hearing led by Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Orlando Aponte Rosario, Waves Ahead Associate Director Pedro Julio Serrano said House Bill (HB) 683 is a “true and accurate copy of HB 2068,” a bill that sought to ban the procedures while allowing mental health professionals to have “professional speech.”

“This bill pretends to reintroduce this concept again and open the door to any mental health or human behavior worker to insert conversion therapies into their practice,” he said. “The fact that fundamentalist [religious] leaders support this bill raises red flags as they have never done anything to support our sexual orientation or gender identities.”

Although it does not define it, the bill’s Explanatory Memorandum refers to a decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra (2018).

In that lawsuit, the high court ruled that states, or territories, can regulate the conduct of professionals but cannot reduce the rights of an individual, such as a licensed professional, under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Supreme Court also pointed out that it is impossible to differentiate between freedom of professional speech and another type of speech.

“This [former] bill was introduced by then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, the governor who was ousted from his seat by the people due to homophobia and misogyny, and everything else revealed inside an offensive chat that violated the people’s dignity,” Serrano said. “They celebrated it with a false and alleged consensus between religious fundamentalist groups and the LGBTQ+ community.”

HB 2068, penned by the New Progressive Party (NPP) House delegation in April 2019, also sought to allow churches and priests to conduct conversion practices on any parishioner, including minors under the parents’ custody, as part of the exercise of freedom of religion.

“This bill was backed by then-representative [María Milagros] ‘Tata’ Charbonier, Priest Carlos Pérez, who wrote this bill and has dedicated his long career to trying to infringe upon the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Puerto Rico, and two LGBTQ+ employees from the Rosselló administration who do not represent our community,” Serrano added.

The LGBTQ+ activist also pointed out that the definition of conversion therapy within the explanatory statement is vague; he said it excludes that the so-called procedures also attempt to change people’s gender identity involuntarily.

Serrano also requested that lawmakers eliminate an “offensive” paragraph in HB 683 that stated that “there is no evidence that churches or their institutions have engaged in any electric shock treatment, including electroconvulsive therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation, to achieve a change in their parishioners’ sexual orientation.”

After this remark, Aponte Rosario confirmed that the legislation under evaluation bore significant similarities to HB 2068.

“This is why we are here; our intention here is to fulfill our responsibility and to bring the tools required for the state to protect children from these procedures,” the lawmaker said. “Our goal here is … to protect Puerto Ricans’ human rights.”

Meanwhile, CABE spokesperson Dr. Ángeles Acosta also said HB 683’s definition of conversion “therapies” is based on an “erroneous” perspective on the patient’s will.

Acosta also said the bill focuses on banning “affirmative” therapies from the practices of mental health professionals, “exempting from its application professionals who do not recognize or validate sexual orientations or gender identities.”

“In other words, I’m talking about those professionals who, within their therapeutic processes, carry on their work according to their values, not their profession,” she said.

Therefore, she recommended that the committee change the definition of conversion “therapies” according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“Conversion therapies are an intervention that pretends to alter the attraction toward the same sex, an individual’s gender expression, or a young person’s gender identity that is incongruent with their sexual anatomy with the particular objective of promoting heterosexuality as the preferred result,” the academy says. “Conversion therapy is also known as sexual reorientation therapy, reparative therapy, ex-gay therapy, Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) and Gender Identity Change Efforts (GICE).”

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