Iowa Board of Medicine to Study Conversion Therapy Ban

BY ALEKSANDRA VUJICIC

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Board of Medicine said Friday it will look into a proposal that seeks to ban a therapy designed to change a person's sexual orientation for those younger than 18.

But the board, which is made up of doctors and citizens who are appointed by the governor, denied a petition from members of the state Youth Advisory Council, which wanted an administrative rule prohibiting Iowa doctors from practicing conversion therapy on minors. Instead, the board said it will form a subcommittee to study the topic.

Several presenters told board members that conversion therapy, which is provided through licensed medical practitioners, is damaging and scientifically unfounded. Nate Monson with Iowa Safe Schools, an advocacy group for LGBT students, said the practice is founded in the belief that being gay or lesbian is a mental health disorder.

"I am blessed that my family never tried to change me," said Alex Bare, a 19-year-old who is gay and a member of the youth council. "It pains me to know that there are youth in Iowa whose own families force them to endure a fraudulent practice."

But Chuck Hurley, the vice president of the socially conservative organization The Family Leader Foundation, said the policy doesn't seem to address the people who want to seek therapy.

"I would encourage you to be very careful about limiting the therapy that's available to parents and children who are struggling with perhaps a same sex attraction or a gender identity confusion that they don't want," he said.

Some board members said that the validity of conversion therapies hasn't been determined, and others wanted more information. The board's vice chairman, Allison Schoenfelder, a doctor from Akron, initiated the vote to form a subcommittee saying she was sympathetic to the group's concerns.

"I think anything that's of great public concern is something we are obligated to look into as a board of medicine. This apparently does," she said, adding that details behind any legal language would have to be worked out if the board decided to move forward with a ban.

If the board chooses to ban the therapy, which Monson said can include teaching "heterosexual dating skills" or talking about becoming more masculine or feminine, all doctors practicing in Iowa would have to follow the rule or else face discipline.

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have outlawed conversion therapy for minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Iowa's Senate passed a ban last year along party lines, with Democrats in favor, but the bill stalled in the Republican-led House.

Bare told board members he didn't know of any licensed professions in the state who practice conversion therapy, but he said the group's proposal would serve as a preventive measure.

Some Iowa lawmakers didn't feel comfortable telling doctors or therapists how to do their jobs, according to T.J. Foley, the executive chair of the youth council. He said approaching the Board of Medicine seemed like a good alternative.

"We aren't by any means sidestepping the Legislature we're just going to the people whose job it is to address these practices," he said.


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