The Nebraska State Capitol was packed to the brim Feb. 7, as emotional testimonies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity roared throughout the rafters, striking the hearts of some while fraying the nerves of others.
Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha introduced Legislative Bill 167 in January, creating controversy throughout Nebraska. The bill would criminalize false advertisement of conversion therapy as well as the practice of conversion therapy on minors for money. Hunt’s bill would also make it illegal for the state to fund conversion therapy for minors. Further, LB167 helps to define conversion therapy as any practice which seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, so legitimate practices or treatments for minors questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are not stigmatized or punished.
Nebraska’s legislature should strongly consider passing LB167 because doing so would eliminate harmful commercial conversion therapy for minors who cannot choose their own care. It would also encourage the use of legitimate resources for young people seeking guidance regarding their sexuality.
For legal guardians, finding counseling for a minor can be a long, tedious task. If conversion therapy remains legal, parents and guardians could send their children to undergo this harmful “therapy,” resulting in residual physical and mental anguish.
LB167 would ensure conversion therapy — a treatment deemed unsafe and unnecessary by psychiatrists and other medical personnel — would no longer be within the realm of possibility.
Eliminating conversion therapy as an option for LGBTQ youth is especially important for minors in Nebraska because minors are not medically emancipated until the age of 19. This means that, as long as a person is under 19, their legal guardian can make medical decisions for them, including therapy options.
Because minors can’t be medically emancipated without going to court in Nebraska, which is a very lengthy and expensive process, they must accede to their guardian’s opinion on what is good for their well-being, even if that includes harmful treatments like conversion therapy.
Minors in Nebraska are left with no autonomy when it comes to healthcare and subsequent treatment. Having legal guardians make healthcare choices for minors can be beneficial, as guardians may have more experience and better insight into the world of healthcare and illness. However, in the case of something like conversion therapy, allowing the guardian to have all rights to a minor’s care is detrimental to both the physical and mental well-being of the minor in question.
Not having their own autonomy means, when it comes to conversion therapy, minors are forced to endure damaging psychotherapies against their will. Passing LB167 would mean minors without medical autonomy will no longer be forced by their guardians to go through conversion therapy.
Throwing out conversion therapy as a viable option is not only the safe choice for minors without medical freedom, but it makes the job of finding treatments that actually help minors struggling with their gender and sexual identities much easier. Getting rid of conversion therapy will leave room for more viable, helpful therapies to emerge, giving LGBTQ and questioning young people mutiple treatment options.
Contrary to the narrative of some fundamentalists, this wider option of safe therapies does not mean LGBTQ minors cannot seek spiritual guidance. LB167 will not prevent minors from seeking help from faith-based groups and religious leaders.
Rather than preventing faith-based groups from helping young people, banning conversion therapy means faith-based mentors will be able to assist and console minors through methods such as supportive counseling rather than attempting to “treat” them using unscientific and harmful methods such as conversion therapy.
If a minor so desires, they may still open up to priests, pastors and the like about their concerns and feelings about their sexuality. But, LB167 would keep these religious leaders from advertising or charging for practices meant to change sexuality.
Furthermore, assistance that does not seek to change a minor’s sexual or gender identity such as facilitation of social support groups for LGBTQ minors would all be allowed under the bill. Faith-based leaders or counselors would no longer be in the business of conversion therapy for money; they would simply act as a source of knowledge for minor’s struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Passing this new bill could be a first step for Nebraska in encouraging LGBTQ rights. While creating legislation is an important stance for the state to take, further action must be taken in order to ban conversion therapy practices for minors and all Nebraska residents. Sen. Hunt’s bill only bans commercial conversion therapy for minors, meaning adults can still seek practices that are incredibly harmful to their well-being.
LB167 also doesn’t explicitly ban conversion therapies but, rather, criminalizes them if done commercially. In other words, providing conversion therapy in exchange for money or advertising conversion therapies as viable options would be against the law, but performing them would still be perfectly legal, even on minors. Although a great start, Sen. Hunt’s LB167 bill is still a watered-down solution for Nebraska’s LGBTQ community.
If Nebraska legislators care about future generations and marginalized communities, they should pass LB167 with ease. Passing Sen. Hunt’s bill would eliminate harmful commercial conversion therapy for minors who cannot choose their own care as well as encourage the use of legitimate resources for young people seeking guidance regarding their sexuality.
LB167 encourages the guardians of Nebraskan minors to stop sending their loved ones to harmful treatments. And, in the long-term, it provides the groundwork for Nebraska to become a more kind-hearted and compassionate state for all its citizens, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.