After hours of testimonies at the Nebraska State Capitol about people experiencing depression, anxiety and shame from conversion therapy as children, Lincoln became the first city in Nebraska to ban conversion therapy on LGBTQA+ minors, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
On Feb. 22, the Lincoln City Council voted 5-1 to prohibit counselors, psychiatrists and therapists from treating minors to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sen. Megan Hunt, representing District 8 in the Nebraska Legislature, has been at the forefront of the ban of conversion therapy statewide with a bill she introduced in 2019: Legislative Bill 167.
LB167 bans organizations from providing or advertising the practice to individuals under eighteen years of age. Hunt herself is an LGBTQA+ woman, the first ever to be elected into Nebraska Legislation. She said it’s her duty to fight for LGBTQA+ individuals as someone who understands the problems this community encounters.
“These kids who are young, if we can prevent them from undergoing conversion therapy, they’re going to have a vastly different experience growing up in Nebraska,” Hunt said. “They’re less likely to deal with depression and suicidal-ideation.”
According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, those who reported to have undergone conversion therapy reported attempting suicide at more than twice the rate in the past year compared to those who did not undergo conversion therapy.
Hunt said that over 30 therapists in the state had been endorsing conversion therapy to children, and thousands of Nebraskans have endured the process. Despite major mental health institutions, such as the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association, calling these practices as fraudulent and harmful, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have criminalized the practice.
“It’s a consumer protection bill. It’s saying this is a debunked pseudo scientific practice that’s not based on any reality or evidence,” Hunt said. “We don’t want to validate that by saying anyone in the Nebraska medical community can be licensed to practice it.”
Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQA+ Resource Center and Women’s Center, said people in the LGBTQA+ community are often coerced into conversion therapy due to religious beliefs in their families. Tetreault said that some faith-based people of any religion could interpret LGBTQA+ identities as a transgression.
“I think some people have used religion as a weapon. It’s really problematic because people use arguments of sincere religious beliefs against any kind of civil rights,” Tetreault said. “While our government should protect freedom of religion, the flip side of the First Amendment is to be free from religion and to not have anybody’s beliefs imposed upon you, especially in the public sphere.”
The next step for the LGBTQA+ community here in Nebraska is a change in perspective within people. LGBTQA+ members are just as deserving as any other human being of respect and decent treatment from everyone, according to Tetreault.
“People should examine what their values are and figure out whether their values are consistent with their belief system. Religion isn’t always why people have anti-LGBT attitudes,” Tetreault said. “It’s also the society people grew up in and how LGBT people had been negatively depicted by the media in the past.”
Tetreault said more resources and programs that affirm people’s identities, such as having more access to counseling services for LGBTQA+ identities, are necessary for continuous change to happen.
Hunt said there needs to be more action from elected bodies in government who have a duty to represent the people they serve.
“We still have a long way to go. Any little thing we can do to help us get there is important for us to prioritize, whether that’s ending conversion therapy statewide or passing non-discrimination acts or making sure LGBTQ people can get identity cards that reflect their identity,” Hunt said. “I would encourage people to stay engaged civically, and always remember the government works for you.”