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SB 1172: California Senate Bill on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

In the spring of 2010, a small group of therapist members of Gaylesta’s Advocacy Committee started discussing the distressing practice of “conversion therapy” by licensed therapists in California. Our efforts led us to contact the offices of members of the California State Assembly to spark their interest in creating a bill to protect people from these dangerous practices. Some members of the State Assembly took interest in the matter, and soon a movement was underway to create Senate Bill 1172. It was Senator Ted Lieu’s office that finally sponsored the bill. It prohibited mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years of age. Such actions by a mental health provider were defined as unprofessional conduct, subjecting the provider to discipline by the provider’s licensing entity.

In September 2012, California governor Jerry Brown made international headlines by signing SB 1172 into law, saying that “these practices [SOCE or Sexual Orientation Change Efforts] have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery." People suddenly became aware that SOCE were still a reality. Throughout our campaign on SB 1172, people expressed concern, confusion, and shock that these practices still existed. 

SB 1172 was meant to take effect on January 1, 2013, but immediately was challenged in lawsuits by several practitioners and advocates of SOCE/reparative therapies (Welch v. Brown and Pickup v. Brown). The putative rationale for these lawsuits was that it interfered with the ability of therapists to exercise their clinical judgment, the rights of parents to determine the care of their minor children, First Amendment rights of free speech, and religious freedom. 

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the law regulated professional conduct, and had only “incidental” impact on speech. They also rejected the notion that it violated parents’ rights to determine treatment for their children, or the right to freedom by association or the right to freedom of religion. However, its opponents moved to file suit with the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Circuit Court affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction while the case moved forward. However, in June 2014, the Supreme Court upheld SB 1172 by refusing to hear the two cases challenging the law, and the law finally went into effect. 

Similar bills have passed in New Jersey (August 2013), the District of Columbia (December 2014), Oregon (May 2015), and Illinois (July 2015).  Other states are proposing like measures, and the outlook for some of these efforts is promising. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Human Rights Campaign have crafted sample legislation to ban conversion therapy with LGBTQ youth, which can be a highly effective means of promoting local and state initiatives.

We are very proud of Gaylesta’s involvement in this effort. Our team collaborated with members of Equality California (EQCA), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Lambda Legal to get SB 1172 passed and signed by the Governor. When this first came up in the State Legislature, we generated a Change.org petition which both asked people to sign and to contact their representatives and the governor to ensure its passage. We are also pleased to know that the passage of SB 1172 started a national movement to protect minors from the harms of SOCE. On April 8, 2015, President Barrack Obama called for an end to “conversion therapy” for LGBT youth throughout the nation, encouraging states to enact bills similar to SB 1172. Two days later, the office of the Surgeon General put out a similar statement calling for an end to the discredited practices.