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Bill would prevent gay conversion therapy bans in Arizona

Gay conversion therapy, or reparative therapy, is discredited by major mental health organizations.

PHOENIX — Arizona State Sen. Vince Leach is sponsoring a bill with the backing of several Republicans that would prevent any municipality or county from banning so-called gay “conversion therapy.”

Twenty states, along with Arizona’s Pima County, already have some form of a ban against reparative therapy.

Gay conversion therapy, or reparative therapy, is discredited by major mental health organizations.

The theory claims that people can be changed from gay to straight through professional counseling. Supporters consider the therapy a religious and personal freedom.

“The government should not be telling individuals what kind of therapy they should receive, nor the therapist, what he or she can talk about,” said Cindy Dahlgren of the socially conservative Center for Arizona Policy.

The bill in its current form states a professional counselor cannot be discredited if they are providing therapy that is in accordance with their “conscience or religious belief.”

Leach did not respond to requests by 12 News for comment.

Conversely, Democrat State Sen. Sean Bowie is pushing a bill for the fourth year in a row declaring the conversion therapy “unprofessional conduct” when applied to children under 18. The ban would not apply to religious counselors.

“It’s called a therapy but it’s important to point out there’s no major medical group that supports this,” Bowie said. “It’s extremely harmful and we’ve lost a lot of young people.”

WATCH: 12 News Reporter Josh Sanders discusses with Joe Dana the balance of being Christian and gay:

A national survey by the Trevor Project last year involving over 34,000 respondents found 57% of LGBTQ respondents experienced suicidal ideations while undergoing conversion therapy.

Justin Traasdahl, 32, spoke with 12 News about his experience growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and receiving more than a decade of “conversion therapy” from a licensed counselor.

“For lack of a better word, it ruined my life and I’m still picking up the pieces,” Traasdahl said. “I’m glad I survived it and there’s a lot who haven’t. And it has to stop.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, referred to as the Mormon Church, now opposes conversion therapy for minors and the church supported a legislative ban passed in Utah. A 2019 statement explained why the church’s therapists do not practice it.

“Research demonstrates that electric shock, aversion and other analogous therapies are ineffective and harmful to youth who experience same-sex attraction,” the statement reads, in part.

WATCH: Hear more of Justin's story in this extended interview:

Elena Joy Thurston, executive director of the Pride and Joy Foundation who gave a TED Talk about sexual identity, is lobbying against Leach’s proposal.

Thurston supports a ban on the practice.

“I am a capitalist. I am all about being able to earn your money with your expertise,” Thurston said. “But not at the expense of children’s lives.”

The competing bills are still being discussed at the committee level in the Senate.

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