Delaware votes to ban conversion therapy

(WHYY, file)

(WHYY, file)

Mathew Shurka said he’s still overcoming the abuse he faced during the five years he experienced conversion therapy as a teen at camps in New York, Virginia, and California.

The Long Island, N.Y., native said that while undergoing therapy aimed at changing his sexuality he was forced to endure a “de-feminization” process, where he wasn’t allowed to speak to his mom or sisters for three years.

During that period, Shurka, now 30, said he even contemplated suicide.

“Because they believe everyone is born heterosexual, most of the time you blame the parents and their parenting — conversion therapy is ultimately breaking families apart, just to get approval of your community,” he said.

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“I’m still dealing with issues as I’m getting older — dating, my family, living my life now and undoing what practitioners did to me for five years.”

Delaware lawmakers hope legislation passed Thursday will prevent kids in Delaware from facing the same trauma.

The state House approved by a 24-14 vote a bill to ban conversion therapy treatments on children — making it the 13th state to do so. The state Senate had passed the bill last year.

A person licensed to practice medicine could receive a fine, or have their license revoked or suspended if they perform the practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identification.

House sponsor state Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred, said she hasn’t met anyone who received conversion therapy in Delaware.

Still, Shurka, who is part of the Born Perfect campaign to end conversion therapy, said his group estimates about 700,000 Americans have received the therapy.

The legislation also doesn’t affect non-licensed practitioners, such as faith leaders.

Prior to the vote Thursday, state Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said she didn’t think the legislation was necessary, stating licensed healthcare professionals don’t practice conversion therapy because it has been frowned upon for a number of years.

However, Shurka said he believes the bill will still do much to educate parents on the risks of conversion therapy.

Heffernan said it is important to stand against the treatment.

“We just want to make sure we take a stance. Delaware stands with LGBTQ youth, especially during the beginning of Pride Month, and we want to make sure we support youth. We want them to have positive outlook in life and know they are supported,” she said.

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