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Massachusetts becomes 16th state to ban 'gay conversion therapy'

The controversial and medically discredited practice aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Image: Charlie Baker
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker during a news conference on Jan. 23, 2019, at the Statehouse, in Boston.Steven Senne / AP file

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday signed into law HR 140, a bill that bans gay conversion therapy on minors, making Massachusetts the 16th state to prohibit the medically discredited and controversial practice.

“After many years of hard work and advocacy, I am so excited that today, Massachusetts became the 16th state to finally ban conversion therapy for minors,” said state Rep. Kay Khan, a Democrat, the bill’s primary sponsor. "At last, LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts are now finally protected from harmful and abusive practices.”

Conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy” or “ex-gay therapy,” which has been described as “torture” by some who have been subjected to it, aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, talk therapy is the most commonly used therapy technique, but some practitioners have also combined this with "aversion treatments," such as induced vomiting or electric shocks, according to a report by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tens of thousands of LGBTQ youth, 13 to 17, are likely to undergo conversion therapy before they turn 18, the report states.

Baker’s press secretary, Brendan Moss, said the governor, a Republican, “is proud of the commonwealth's history of support for equal rights and protecting all citizens against discrimination.” The bill made it out of the state House and onto the governor’s desk with overwhelming support: the House vote was 147-8, and the Senate vote 34-0.

Following the November release of the star-studded and critically acclaimed conversion therapy drama, “Boy Erased,” which was based on a true story, national attention has turned to the jurisdictions where conversion therapy is still legal. In 2018 alone, Washington, Maryland, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Delaware all passed bans. This year, New York and Puerto Rico banned the practice. And in Congress, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced a federal bill to ban Medicaid funding for conversion therapy.

The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization, has been campaigning to ban the practice across the United States through its 50 Bills 50 States initiative. The organization, which published a study in 2018 that found LGBTQ youth who undergo conversion therapy are more likely to attempt suicide, hailed Massachusetts’ passage of the bill.

“Not only will their actions reduce harm to queer youth in the Bay State, but the clear, bipartisan support for this legislation sends a powerful message to lawmakers around the country that this abusive practice must end,” Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement shared with NBC News.

Kevin Wong, Trevor Project's head of communications, said conversion therapy bans have been introduced in 39 states and passed in 16.