New Hampshire could be the next state to pass a ban on ex-gay therapy for minors, but it will be because a conservative Republican proposed it.
State Rep. Eric Schleien (R) announced on his Facebook page this past week that he would be introducing a bill “relative to conversion therapy seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation.” He openly admitted that he was inspired by the Obama administration’s call for an end to all forms of “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, treatments that try to change — or more often, reject — a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Though he is still polishing the bill’s language, he hopes to not only ban providing conversion therapy to minors, but to establish in law that it is considered fraud — that it is deceptive to advertise the therapy as useful or successful. Similarly, in New Jersey, separate from the passage of a similar ban there, a state court ruled that the Jewish ex-gay organization JONAH violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by marketing the supposed benefits and success stories of ex-gay therapy.
Schleien told ThinkProgress that he sees it as a liberty issue. If minors are forced into treatment programs that are “abusive and fraudulent,” that is a violation of their liberty, he explained. He applies the same “liberty” reasoning to defend his support for marriage equality. Though he’s partial to the vision of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that the government should get out of the business of recognizing marriages entirely, Schleien believes that as long as the government is recognizing one kind of couple’s relationship, it should recognize other couples the same way.
Despite his seemingly quite liberal views on LGBT rights, Schleien’s conservative bonafides are in check. For example, he boasts a 97 percent rating on the New Hampshire House Republican Alliance’s voting scorecards. “If you want to raise taxes or restrict gun ownership, I’m not your guy,” he joked.
On the issue of conversion therapy, Schleien is resolute, and even eager to educate. He actively joined in conversations that took place both on his Facebook page and on a Reddit thread about his announcement, answering questions and confronting detractors. “After doing a lot of research, it was stupidly obvious that these kinds of programs are harmful to children and have no benefits. I thought in that case, it’s important to act ASAP,” he wrote on one post.
On his Facebook thread, he went toe-to-toe with a very vocal opponent of his proposed legislation, a “possibilities coach” by the name of Kevin Kervick. Kervick previously ran unsuccessfully for the New Hampshire House in 2012, and he currently resides in Bozeman, Montana. On Schleien’s page, he claimed to be a “citizen of NH,” but he clarified to ThinkProgress that he traveled out west for a sabbatical and decided to stay, adding, “I am not sure if I will return to New Hampshire.”
Kervick doesn’t practice any form of conversion therapy, but he is an ardent defender of it as part of the work of his “fledgling” organization, Coaches and Therapists for Common Sense. “I will say that I know many people that identified as gay one time but are no longer gay,” he told ThinkProgress. “How they changed is different for every individual. Undoubtedly some received counseling and some did not.”
He also opined, “The greatest danger right now in the current zeitgeist is the abuse of questioning youth by agenda-driven LGBT therapists or neutral therapists that are scared to death of the gaystoppo and thus take a non-committal stance. I believe we are allowing mental illness to grow because we don’t want to offend any sensibilities.”
Schleien had little patience for Kervick in the Facebook thread. “I got from your point of view I’m committing tyranny and am a phony,” Schleien countered to Kervick’s multiple posts. “Putting in some clear language [referring] to child abuse and committing fraud is not trampling on your profession.” He also reiterated his point that this is about liberty: “Liberty — being able to live your life as you see fit as long as long as you’re not impeding on that right of someone else. Key Distinction: ‘as long as you’re not impeding on that right of someone else.'”
Though the bill won’t be up for consideration until next year, Schleien has already received pushback from some of his colleagues. One explained to him that he believes homosexuality is a sexual addiction, and that there should be no ban on helping people cure their sexual addictions. Schleien suggested he might try to “take this Representative to a Gay Bar and he can ask people about how they deal with their ‘addiction.'”
He’s actually optimistic that it will pass, estimating 100 percent support from Democrats and 50 percent support from his fellow Republicans. If it does, New Hampshire would join California, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, and the District of Columbia in banning conversion therapy for minors.