Legislation on Controversial Conversion Therapy Practice Gets Hearing at Hawaii Capitol

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State lawmakers will hear testimony Monday at 2 p.m. on what is sure to be one of the more controversial bills this session.

House Bill 1789 would ban so called “conversion therapy” on minors, a form of therapy that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight through psychotherapy treatment and in some cases, medicated drugs.


Jim Hochberg, president of Hawaii Family Advocates, is opposed to the legislation. He said: “This law violates the patient-physician relationship.  It violates the counselor’s freedom of speech.  It prevents parents and children from getting the help they desire.”

Hochberg also argued that the sex education program for public middle school students – Pono Choices – “encourages homosexual behavior,” but this bill will punish teachers or counselors who help children who do not want to have same sex attractions.

However, Kris Coffield of Imua Alliance said conversion therapy is an “abusive practice that undermines a child’s identity development and expressive dignity.”

“As we move to expand civil rights for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression, we must also recognize that equality extends beyond marriage,” said Coffield. “We must protect children from being told that who they are is wrong or reprehensible. That’s child abuse.”

Kathryn Xian of GirlFest Hawaii and Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery helped draft the legislation with Coffield. She said: “Children must not be forced into a certain sexuality against their will. This bill ensures that anyone who uses this type of harmful coercion will be held accountable. We must foster an environment that allows children the safe space and encouragement to develop their own identities without retaliation.”

The bill does not infringe on the right of religious organizations to practice religious-based counseling about sexual orientation or gender identity, Coffield said.
“While we find conversion therapy to be problematic in any institution, we understand that there are constitutional questions surrounding state regulation of religious practices,” said Coffield. “This bill in no way impugns the right of churches to offer counseling consistent with their beliefs or on their own grounds, as long as they do so under the guise of religion, not mental health.”

The proposal was included in this year’s Keiki Caucus legislative package, introduced by House Vice Speaker John Mizuno and Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland.

More than 100 people have submitted testimony.