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West Virginia Bill Would Mandate Conversion Therapy for Trans People Under 21

One of a slew of anti-trans bills released January 10, the bill also bans gender affirming care up to the age of 21.

The State Capitol building in Charleston, West Virginia, on June 26, 2017.

A new bill in West Virginia, Senate Bill 194, would enact a total ban on gender-affirming care for trans individuals up to 21 years old and mandates that all therapists and social workers in the state attempt to “cure” being transgender. The bill, filed by Senators Mike Azinger, Laura Chapman, and Chandler Swope, would impose the most draconian restrictions on gender-affirming care in the United States. It would also force all social workers and therapists in the state to become conversion therapists. This would build on West Virginia’s under-18 ban on gender affirming care passed in 2023, which included exceptions that allowed some transgender youth to continue receiving care. The bill, identified as one of the most dangerous this cycle in West Virginia by leading state organizers, is one of 9 anti-trans bills released yesterday in West Virginia.

The bill is broken into sections to target different aspects of transgender care. One section defines being transgender as “sexual deviation” and places it alongside “pedophilia, exhibitionism, masochism, sadomasochism, fetishism,” and more. Another defines minors for the purposes of this bill as being anyone under 21 years of age, expanding the definition to include transgender adults. The bill then would ban gender affirming care for anyone under this age while also banning the usage of state funds for gender affirming care.

The most jarring provision in the bill, not found in any other gender affirming care ban bill to date, is the one that applies to all social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists. The bill mandates that all mental health care professionals would be prohibited from “exacerbating gender dysphoria” in those under 21 years of age by “continuing such condition, delusion, or disorder with no intent of cure or cure-pursuing recovery.” Therapists would be mandated to “cure” gender dysphoria, as affirming their transgender patients would be considered “continuing such condition, delusion, or disorder.”

See the provision here:

This provision would mandate that therapists and social workers in the state become conversion therapists, a practice currently banned in 27 states according to the Movement Advancement Project. There is no evidence that there is any “cure” for being transgender. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that conversion therapy harms transgender people. Transgender people forced into conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide, and the risk does not differ between “secular” and “religious” conversion therapy attempts.

Prominent West Virginia organizer Ash Orr, who goes by he/they pronouns, spoke with Erin In The Morning and identified the bill as one of the most dangerous in the 2023-2024 legislative cycle, stating “Senate Bills 194 and 195 are the two bills I’m most concerned about.”

Asked what the bill would mean for transgender West Virginians, he stated, “Trans people know they are – there is nothing to ‘cure.’ The truth is, trans people of all ages are living happy, complete, and joyful lives – this contradicts the false narrative created around our community by extremist politicians. This piece of legislation attacks our most basic values of privacy and control over our own bodies, and is based on misleading or even outright false ideas.”

The bill is one of several proposed in West Virginia this year. Another bill, Senate Bill 195, would target transgender people as being “obscene” and would bar “transgender exposure, performances, or display” to any minor. This could have the effect of barring transgender people from being able to exist in public, as it would be difficult to avoid being seen as a transgender person by a minor. Speaking to this bill, Orr stated, “This is a blatant attempt to criminalize and erase the trans community of West Virginia.”

West Virginia will begin referring bills to relevant committees shortly, and given the extreme interest by Republican presidential candidates this year, these bills will bear close watching. Likewise, in West Virginia, multiple Republican candidates will be running for governor as Governor Jim Justice pivots for his Senate run. Republican primaries have been a cause for concern for Republicans who otherwise would not support anti-trans legislation. With the introduction of West Virginia’s anti-trans bills, the nationwide count for anti-trans legislation now stands at nearly 200 bills in the first 11 days of 2024.

When asked about the increase in anti-trans legislation in West Virginia, Ash responds with hope, “The rise in legislative attacks aimed at our community is concerning, but it shows the desperation of lawmakers and extremists who are against transgender rights.”

This piece was republished with permission from Erin In The Morning.

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