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Stop Reporting That Hawaii Banned Conversion Therapy on LGBTQ Youth

News quickly spread over the weekend that Hawaii became the 12th state to ban conversion therapy.

Outlets like Gay Star News, Lavender Magazine, Attitude, Hawaii News Now, and NewNowNext reported that the Aloha State had become the latest in a growing list of municipalities to prohibit orientation change efforts on LGBTQ youthwhich has been condemned by every leading U.S. medical association.

But there are a number of problems with the claim that Hawaii has taken decisive action to outlaw the discredited “gay cure” practicethe most obvious of which is that, for now, conversion therapy remains legal in the state.

Both the Hawaii House of Representatives and Senate have approved SB 270, which was sponsored by Democrats Sen. Stanley Chang, Sen. Rosalyn Baker, and Rep. Karl Rhoads. The legislation prohibits licensed medical professionals from either offering conversion therapy or advertising services to people under the age of 18 years old.

Punishment may include loss of licensure, although SB 270 is a bit vague about the consequences of contravening the statute.

The legislation found extremely wide support in Hawaii’s Democrat-controlled legislature, where Republicans control just five seats in the 76-member body. The Senate, which boasts not a single conservative lawmaker in its chambers, passed SB 270 in March with just one dissenting vote. Just two legislators voted against the bill in the House earlier this month.

It’s important to note that even overwhelming consensus from state legislators does not a law make.

Before a bill can become official state policy, it has to go through a number of important steps. In cases where the House and Senate voted on two slightly different versions of a piece of legislation (e.g., due to amendments proposed by lawmakers), the draft bill is sent to a conference committee where the two chambers are tasked with agreeing on a compromise.

When the two parties can’t reach an agreement, the bill is effectively dead. This sort of thing happens with legislation all the time, largely due to obstruction on either side of the aisle. Previous attempts to pass conversion therapy in Hawaii failed when the House refused to bring the legislation up for a vote.

SB 270 passed through conference on Friday, but it has a pair of additional hurdles to clear before advocates can declare conversion therapy the law of the land.

First, the both chambers have to vote on the compromise bill offered by the committee. That vote is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. Should the House and Senate agree on a finalized version of SB 270, the conversion therapy ban is still not a done deal. It will then head to Gov. David Ige to sign into law, and Ige has the authority to veto the legislation if he so chooses.

That scenario is highly unlikely. Three years ago the Democrat approved one of the nation’s most progressive pieces of pro-trans legislation, allowing trans people to update birth certificates without a surgical requirement.

But even with the governor’s likely support, the intent to sign is not the same as an actual signatureand there are no sure things in politics.

There’s another major issue with claiming that Hawaii is the 12th state to approve a conversion therapy ban, which was likewise reported in outlets like the Huffington Post, PinkNews, and Jezebel. Should Gov. Ige lend his official support to the bill, the Aloha State would only be the 11th state to do so.

Where did the additional state come from, one might ask?

Many publicationsincluding Out and The Hillclaimed Maryland has banned conversion therapy, but the state is in a similar position to Hawaii.

In April, Maryland’s House of Representatives voted 95 to 27 favor of a bill outlawing the anti-LGBTQ practice following heartfelt testimony from Del. Meagan Simonaire. The Republican lawmaker claimed her parents sought out conversion therapy while she was a bisexual teenager struggling with her sexuality.

“[I]t’s impossible to fix something that was never broken in the first place,” Simonaire told colleagues, adding that the issue is about “basic human decency.”

Although the Senate had already passed the legislation by a 34 to 12 margin, Gov. Larry Hogan must next offer his verdict on Senate Bill 1028. Hogan is a Republican, but it’s believed he will sign the legislation to avoid being painted as a homophobe by opponents in the next gubernatorial race.

The conservative has yet to issue a statement on SB 1028’s fate.

Another state which is widely cited to have banned conversion therapy is New York, but despite such claims in On Top Magazine, The Randy Report, and Joe.My.God, that’s not exactly true.

After a statewide bill to prohibit the practice stalled in the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in 2016 blocking insurance providers from covering medical entities which claim to be able to “change” the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth.

That regulation is a step in the right direction, but it has largely been up to local municipalities in the state to take sweeping action where Albany has failed.

Erie County in upstate New York approved a conversion therapy ban earlier this yearan ordinance which at one time was named for Vice President Mike Pence. New York City passed similar legislation in November, while Albany County has signaled its intention to follow suit.

At the time of writing, the states which have passed a conversion therapy ban at the statewide level include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia. In addition to the pending bill in Hawaii, New Hampshire looks to be next on the ever-growing list.

It might appear pedantic to fact-check what are minor distinctions, but accurate reporting is crucial in illustrating the scope of conversion therapyas well as the work that lies ahead to criminalize the anti-LGBTQ treatment in all 50 states.

A January report from UCLA’s pro-LGBTQ think tank The Williams Institute estimates that approximately 698,000 adults in the U.S. are survivors of conversion therapy.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.