Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan has signed two historic pieces of legislation, effectively prohibiting the discredited and potentially harmful practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth in the state.
The newly enacted Michigan House Bill 4616 expressly forbids mental health care providers from administering conversion therapy to minors. Infringements on this law may lead to disciplinary actions and potential sanctions on practitioners’ licences.
The second piece of legislation, House Bill 4617, refines Michigan’s mental health code by defining conversion therapy as “any practice or treatment by a mental health professional intended to alter an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” The bill includes efforts aimed at changing behavior, gender expression, or reducing or eliminating same-sex romantic or sexual attractions or feelings.
Importantly, the legislation stipulates that the ban does not extend to counseling providing “acceptance, support, or understanding” to an LGBTQ person or aiding a transgender individual in a gender transition.
The dual laws, which are expected to be enforced starting October, narrowly passed through the state legislature last month, splitting along party lines. Notably, Republican State Senator Mark Huizenga was the sole Republican who supported the bills in the Senate, while no House Republicans backed the measures.
The Democrat-led legislative effort faced criticism from Republican State Representative Neil Friske, who posited that the Democrats’ definition of conversion therapy was overly broad. He suggested that passing the bills could lead to criminalizing practitioners who uphold what he referred to as “natural law” and who reject what he called “new age left-wing gender schemes.”
However, Democrats countered that conversion therapy constitutes a form of abuse, citing studies from reputable organizations such as the Williams Institute and the Trevor Project that correlate exposure to conversion therapy with elevated rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Prominent medical bodies have condemned conversion therapy, often termed “reparative therapy,” for being rooted in the debunked notion that LGBTQ identities are disorders in need of treatment.
“In acting to ban the egregious practice of conversion therapy in Michigan, we are taking steps to make our state a more welcoming and inclusive place,” Whitmer said on Twitter, expressing her gratitude as a mother of a member of the LGBTQ community and a lifelong ally.
Previously, in 2021, Whitmer had signed an executive order prohibiting the use of state and federal funding for conversion therapy for minors.
With this move, Michigan joins 26 other states and Washington, D.C., in enacting legislation that either fully or partially outlaws conversion therapy for minors. Meanwhile, bans on conversion therapy in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida are currently unenforceable due to a preliminary injunction.
Nationally, in June, House and Senate Democrats reintroduced legislation seeking a comprehensive ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ individuals, both young and adult.