April 23, 2018

California appears poised to pass a law that may ban all forms of “conversion therapy” propaganda


The state of California could soon be the first in the country to actively ban the practice of “sexual conversion therapy,” according to Elly Belle at Teen Vogue.

The California State Assembly convened on April 19th and, by a wide margin, passed AB-2943. According the Belle, the bill explicitly states that “it would be illegal to claim to be able to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through conversion therapy.” Belle explains that while California has already pushed efforts to end these practices for children by passing a law that banned “sexual orientation change efforts” on minors in 2012, this new bill, if passed by the state senate, will broaden the scope of the ban to include adults. In particular, it would bring “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” under the prohibitions of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, while legally encoding research into the inefficacy and last harm of conversion therapy.

Belle cites a truly horrifying report on the prevalence of “conversion therapy” methods from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, finding that “approximately 57,000 LGBTQ youth will undergo conversion therapy from a religious or spiritual advisor in their lifetime.” The practice is already illegal in some major American cities, like New York and Miami.

Calvin Freiburger at LifeSiteNews, the website of Canada’s far-right Campaign Life Coalition, which opposes abortion rights and gay marriage, among other things, pinpoints a specific part of the bill that, according to him, would make the sale and distribution of “conversation therapy” paraphernalia and texts illegal. Freiburger writes, “The bill is unprecedented for another reason, too: by classifying the subject under prohibited ‘goods,’ which critics say means it would go so far as to ban the sale of books endorsing the practice, as well as other forms of constitutionally-protected speech.”

For Freiburger, this seems to implicate the First Amendment:

The United States Constitution expressly forbids laws ‘abridging the freedom of speech’ or ‘prohibiting the free exercise’ of ‘religion.’ The California Constitution declares that ‘[e]very person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects,’ and that ‘[f]ree exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed.’

For perhaps a milisecond, one might understand where Freiburger’s issue lies — after all, America was built on the seemingly intractable right to religious freedom. I’m also immediately reminded, however, of Nitsuh Abebe’s convincing exploration of “devil’s advocacy” in the New York Times Magazine’s “First Words” column in the New York Times Magazine. He’s talking about internet troll culture, but his observations are applicable here too:

The devil’s advocate is pictured as a highhanded nerd popping up to play logic games in the face of pressing issues. Concern trolls are disingenuous drags on the conversation. There’s hand-wringing, derailing, distraction, tone policing, silencing, gaslighting, ‘sea lioning’ — a label for every depressing rhetorical habit that could possibly present itself, each term a tool for narrowing down the number of ideas waiting in line for your consideration. Taken as a whole, this taxonomy feels both totally rational and slightly desperate — a way of insisting, against abundant evidence to the contrary, that a productive conversation remains possible.

Freiburger is not a devil’s advocate, of course — he just believes the freedom of certain religious groups supersedes the rights of LGBTQ people. But, as Abebe notes, First Amendment “trolls” seem to be losing their battle.

The California Senate, which will be next to vote on the bill, has twice as many Democrats as Republicans, and is presided over by former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The odds look good.



Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.