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January 22, 2014 at 10:54 AM

Bill would prevent sexual-orientation changes efforts for minors

Rev. Manny Santiago was 16 when his parents forced him into therapy to change his sexual orientation.

“It was a lot of shaming,” the 35-year-old said. “A lot of shame about your body, about who you are and the constant threat of hell.”

Santiago is now pastor of University Baptist Church, a Seattle congregation that welcomes people of different backgrounds, including sexual orientation. He was living in Puerto Rico when he went through therapy, but said his experience can help lawmakers understand what a new bill could mean for gay children.

House Bill 2451 would prevent these kinds of therapies.

The House Health and Wellness Committee on Wednesday held a hearing for the bill, which prevents practices that seek to change the sexual orientation of a minor, including so-called reparative or conversion therapies and any other efforts to change gender expression or reduce sexual attraction to members of the same sex.

“When you’re a teenager, you’re not looking for people to tell you whether you’re gay or straight,” said Santiago, who testified at the hearing. “There’s not even a medical professional who can change the sexual orientation of a child.”

Newly-appointed Sen. Marko Liias, was sponsor of the bill before leaving the House for the Senate Tuesday. He replaces Sen. Paull Shin, who resigned for health reasons.

Liias testified at the hearing as a concerned citizen.

“Sexual-orientation-change efforts are ineffective and dangerous,” he said, adding that the practices have risk of depression and suicide. “We should not study them, we should just make them unprofessional practice for health care providers in this state.”

Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, a committee member who spoke out at the hearing, said he’s not making judgments about the effectiveness of these treatments, but is concerned about choice.

“What about the kid who doesn’t want to be homosexual? Whether you think it’s a choice or it isn’t, that’s an argument for yourself,” he said. “I’ve never been a mandate person, but I’ll consider it if we’re truly not getting in the way of what people want.”

The bill would permit therapies that provide social support and identity exploration, including “sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”

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