Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq) will be hosting LGBTQ High School Youth Day at the Capitol on Thursday, March 5.
The event, headed by OkEq Executive Director Toby Jenkins, will address concerns over Republican Sally Kern’s House Bill 1598.
The bill, which faces opposition from LGBTQ organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Freedom Oklahoma, would effectively give state protection to the use of conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors in Oklahoma.
Conversion therapy, also called “reparative therapy” or “ex-gay therapy,” is a highly controversial form of therapy that attempts to change the sexual orientations or gender identities of homosexuals through a variety of psychological methods.
Those who believe in using conversion therapy view homosexuality as a mental illness that requires professional treatment.
Denounced by virtually all professional mental health organizations in the US as a form of abuse, conversion therapy uses dangerous and discredited practices.
According to a 2009 report of the American Psychological Association, these practices include induced nausea, vomiting, electric shock and shaming (to name a few), in an attempt to discourage homosexual thoughts and behaviors.
As a result of this psychological and physical trauma, individuals who undergo conversion therapy can often experience depression, social withdrawal, sexual dysfunction, increased hostility, self-blame and suicide, according to the NCLR.
Because of these resulting damages and a lack of any actual conversion derived from these practices, conversion therapy is seen as scientifically baseless and medically unjustifiable by all reputable mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association.
Even in the face of widespread opposition from the LGBTQ community, human rights activists and medical professionals, conversion therapy is still supported by many.
Rep. Kern, author of the controversial bill (whose official title is the “Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act”), states the aim of the bill is to protect parental rights.
Kern said that “kids are being told that they are born homosexual and that they can’t change.”
Kern hopes the bill will “allow children who are struggling with homosexual feelings to have some counseling” so that they can find a solution to their struggles.
The bill outlines that no state or local government will be allowed to “prohibit or restrict” this counseling, and that “unwanted same-sex attractions or behaviors” should be addressed without governmental interference.
The bill cleared the Oklahoma House of Representatives Committee on Children, Youth and Family Services by a 5–3 vote on Tuesday and is currently on its way to the full House for a vote.
Some Oklahomans see this bill as a serious threat to Oklahoma’s LGBTQ youth.
HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse described Kern’s bill as an “assault on LGBTQ youth,” adding that “so-called conversion ‘therapy’ (is) telling young people that the only way to find love or acceptance is to change the very nature of who they are.”
Echoing this criticism, Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Troy Stevenson stated that “Rep. Kern’s bill is an attempt to promote and support child abuse and … a dangerous pseudo-science that leads to suicide and depression.”
This concern over Oklahoma’s LGBTQ youth is precisely why OkEq Executive Director Toby Jenkins is heading the LGBTQ High School Youth Day event.
“The Oklahoma legislators have introduced anti-LGBTQ legislation for 23 years in a row,” said Jenkins. “We have had to care for the most marginalized in our community without any governmental assistance or support. So while we fought for our rights we also cared for and provided for those living with HIV/AIDS, transgender persons, LGBT older adults, and our LGBTQ youth.”
With growing support for LGBTQ rights across Oklahoma and across the US, Jenkins asserted that Kern’s bill is simply “not keeping pace with societal awareness.”
OkEq’s event will take place at the capitol and will have LGBTQ youth speak directly with legislators about House Bill 1598.
Jenkins hopes “to have them share some of their stories with the legislators.”
About youths’ changing attitudes, Jenkins said, “We have noticed a growing trend among our youth to be more socially conscious and politically involved.”
Jenkins considers initiatives such as the LGBTQ High School Youth Day “to be pipelines of leadership. Our youth are able to grasp the important work being done (or not being done) and they’re able to dream of themselves sitting at those desks on the floor, working to bring change.”
To parents who think conversion therapy will work on their children, Jenkins warned, “You may change a person’s sexual behavior, but you cannot change a person’s sexual orientation. Conversion therapy is abuse based on a societal desire to control and define gender roles and expressions. It’s fraud and smoke and mirrors.”
LGBTQ High School Youth Day is open to all high schoolers. Students need an approved absence from their classes in order to attend, and must RSVP in advance. Buses will leave the Dennis R. Neil Equality Center in downtown Tulsa at 7 a.m.