Reps. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) and Celia Israel (D-Austin) filed identical bills, House Bill (HB) 407 and HB 560, in the Texas House and Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) filed a similar bill, Senate Bill 97, in the Texas Senate.
The bills define “sexual orientation” as the “actual or perceived status of an individual with respect to the individual’s sexuality.”
It would be illegal for a mental health professional to try to change the sexual orientation of a minor in general, but the bills specifically ban attempts to “eliminate or reduce the child’s sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”
The practice, sometimes called sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), is currently illegal in 20 states and Washington, D.C.
The providers covered under the statute would be:
- behavior analysts;
- chemical dependency counselors;
- licensed professional counselors;
- marriage and family therapists;
- sex offender treatment providers;
- social workers;
- special officers for offenders with mental impairments; and
- anyone else licensed to offer professional therapy or counseling services.
The bills stipulate that professionals are still allowed to provide “sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”
The legislation also would not ban providers from affirming a minor’s desire to change their gender.
The proposals are reminiscent of similar ordinances enacted in Palm Beach County, Florida and Boca Raton, Florida based in part on the position of the American Psychological Association (APA), which believes SOCE has a likelihood of causing harm to minors.
Two therapists sued the municipalities in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, asserting the City of Boca Raton and the County of Palm Beach had impinged their constitutional rights.
In a 2 to 1 decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the ordinances, ruling that the bans on SOCE were probably unconstitutional because they amounted to a content-based restriction on the speech of mental health professionals, which is not permitted under the First Amendment.
“The government cannot regulate speech by relabeling it as conduct,” the court said.
They pointed out that that the APA had negative references to homosexuality as recently as 1987, and that the views of professional organizations change often and do not determine one’s First Amendment rights.
The dissenting judge stated that Boca Raton and Palm Beach County “clearly have an interest in protecting minors from harmful professional practices,” and called the majority’s characterization of the laws “inexact.”
Dr. Sandra Shullman, president of the American Psychological Association (APA), condemned the ruling and the nature of SOCE.
“Sexual orientation change therapy is highly unlikely to change a patient’s sexual orientation and there is real evidence of harm, according to a 2009 study of the peer-reviewed scientific literature conducted by the [APA],” Shullman said in an APA press release.
“The scientific research since 2009 has greatly increased the evidence that participants in such efforts believe they were harmful. Although these results came mostly from studies of adults, APA shared with the court our concern about the likely harmful effects on minors who cannot legally consent to such procedures.”