Analysis of Acts “relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors” AKA “Counseling Bans” H.140 and S.70

Counseling is NOT “child abuse.”

Massachusetts Senate Bill (SB) 70 and House Bill (HB) 140 target parents and mental health professionals who offer help to youth who are experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. These bills would require that any counseling (specifically talk therapy) that children receive affirm liberal gender ideology and sex changes. A well-meaning mental health provider, for example, would be handcuffed and not able to explore the source of a minor client’s feelings, and be required by law to affirm hormone therapy and sex change surgery, regardless of the views of parents or what is in the best interest of the child.

It has been reported in a variety of news outlets (the FederalistNew Boston Post) that parental disagreements regarding children’s counseling relative to gender identity have begun to come up in custody battles. This legislation would empower courts to side with a parent demanding a child receive surgery and hormones over a parent looking to allow a child to develop naturally. This is despite the fact that many children out-grow gender confusion and could be permanently sterilized by surgery or hormone therapy.

Specifically,  HB.140 and SB.70 would criminalize “any practice,” including talk therapy and counseling, that encouraged a minor to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

This is true even if that change was sought by the minor. S.70 even adds a provision labeling this type of treatment “child abuse,” and requires DCF intervention. This legislation tramples on the fundamental rights of patients and therapists, as well as parents to direct the moral and religious upbringing of their children. Therapy should be guided by a client’s self-determined goals, not invasive legislation, whether those goals are to embrace or eliminate same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria.

This bill bans “any practice,” including talk therapy—

—equating simply talking about a change of sexual identity or orientation with more invasive and controversial interventions.

  • In prior hearings, sponsors have been unable to name a single licensed health professional in Massachusetts who is currently (or even recently) performing any of the aversive practices they use to justify their bills. (i.e. electro-shock therapy, ice baths, nausea-inducing drugs.)
These bills are an unconstitutional state restriction on the free speech of mental health professionals.

Similar counseling bans in other states have already been recognized as violating the free speech of therapists and their patients. The U.S. Supreme Court, in June of 2018, rejected earlier decisions upholding bans on talk therapy, declaring “Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by ‘professionals.’” The Court reaffirmed that, “Doctors help patients make deeply personal decisions, and their candor is crucial.”

The Supreme Court also declared that “when the government polices the content of professional speech, it can fail to ‘preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.’”

Nat’l Inst. of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra, 138 S. Ct. 2361

There is NO “religious exemption.”

Several supporters of these bills have claimed there is a “religious exemption” in the legislation that would protect pastors or priests. This is simply false.  It is true that the prohibitions in the bill would only apply to licensed health care professionals, (“including but not limited to, any physician, psychologist, social worker, nurse, or allied mental health and human services professional, including marriage and family therapist, rehabilitation counselor, mental health counselor, or educational psychologist”) BUT, many pastors/priests are also licensed counselors and the bills would apply to them.  Also, this legislation would directly affect all pastors in two significant ways:

  • Pastors/priests who are counseling youth in their congregation who are struggling with these issues and need clinical help (more than what the pastor/priest can offer) would have nowhere to refer the child that offers help from a Christian perspective. (This is true for Orthodox Jews and Muslims, etc., as well.)
  • If parents requested pastoral counseling at a church, but told the pastor/priest that their child was receiving clinical counseling from a licensed health professional, the pastor/priest, as a mandatory reporter, would have to report the family to DCF for child abuse. (This comes from section 2 of S.70)

This bill would label Christian counseling as “child abuse.”

If a therapist simply engages in talk therapy…

…with a child who is suffering with confusing or unwanted sexual feelings, the Senate version of this bill (S.70) requires they be reported for child abuse – equating talk therapy of any sort with actual behavioral abuses.

DCF shouldn’t be taking children away from parents who refuse cross-sex hormones for a gender-confused child and seek counseling instead.

That’s what Section 2 of SB 70 does – it requires DCF to initiate a process that can lead to children being removed from the home just for receiving counseling the state doesn’t approve of.  (This same process – an Article 51 Investigation – led to Justina Pelletier being separated from her family for more than a year because of a dispute over medical treatment.

Deciding that you do not want your child to have a sex change as a minor should not be considered child abuse.

Section 2 of the bill, which contains the child abuse provisions, is what makes this bill different (far worse) than the dozen or so similar bills passed in other states already. It would also prevent parents from seeking needed treatment for their children out of fear of losing custody. It simply goes TOO FAR.

Section 2 of the bill would expand DCF’s authority to remove children from their homes.

If a child receives the counseling this bill bans, that treatment is labeled “child abuse,” and DCF is authorized to take custody of the child under the same statute that tore Justina from her parents for over a year.  Not even the counseling ban in California has this alarming language.

The bill would put talk therapy in the same section of child abuse reporting law as…

…physical abuse, malnutrition and human trafficking. It doesn’t make any sense.

If puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and elective surgery are OK for children…

…with gender dysphoria, how can simple counseling be “child abuse?”

It’s ironic that mental health professionals can prescribe powerful hormones…

…to children with gender identity issues but would be banned by this bill from resolving gender dysphoria just by counseling.