February 16, 2021

Serena Sonoma
Communications Coordinator, Regional Media Lead - U.S. South

Zach Meiners, Survivor: “Conversion ‘therapy’ taught me to hate myself and nearly ended my life. Being taught these methods, all while being told that you must change in order to be loved and accepted, is a horrifying wound in our community.”

New York, NY - Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, is responding to growing bipartisan support in Kentucky to oppose so-called “conversion therapy.” House Bill 199, better known as the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, stipulates that mental health professionals will not engage in conversion therapy with an individual under the age of 18. The bill has been spearheaded by Republican cosponsors Representative Kim Banta, and Senator Alice Forgy Kerr.

The Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky (BCTK) coalition has been building momentum around the legislation in recent years, rallying support from over 100 organizations such as the Kentucky Psychological Association, Kentucky Nurses Association, Kentucky Medical Association, and Kentucky Mental Health Coalition.

Zach Meiners, Conversion Therapy Survivor tells GLAAD: “When I found out that the same ‘therapists’ who did this to me over 10 years ago were still practicing here in Kentucky, I knew I had to come forward and tell my story. Conversion ‘therapy’ taught me to hate myself and nearly ended my life. Being taught these methods, all while being told that you must change in order to be loved and accepted, is a horrifying wound in our community. They must be brought into the light and stopped.”

Zach is a 31-year-old gay filmmaker based in Louisville. He was initiated into conversion therapy at 14, shortly after being outed, and continued going 1-2 times a week for four years. He tells GLAAD that this experience caused him to go back into the closet until he was 26. Today, Zach is an openly gay man who combines his skills as a filmmaker and his passion for activism to cause positive change into the world and is working to ensure that no child has to be subjected to this practice ever again.

A Growing Movement to Ban Conversion Therapy

If passed, Kentucky would become the 21st state and just the 4th state in the U.S. South to ban so-called “conversion” or “reparative” therapy. More than 15 leading medical organizations have condemned the practice, which uses unproven, harmful methods in unsuccessful attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to a 2019 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, an estimated 16,000 LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 - 17 will receive conversion therapy before their 18th birthday in the 32 states where the practice was legal. The Williams Institute estimates 10,000 LGBTQ youth have been protected from conversion therapy in states where it has been banned. In the two years since the study, the practice has been banned in two additional states: Utah and Virginia.

Impact of Conversion Therapy on LGBTQ+ Kentuckians:

  • According to a 2021 poll, 74% of Kentuckians oppose putting LGBTQ+ minors through “conversion” therapy. 57% of Kentuckians are in favor of banning the practice in the state. On the political front, candidates who oppose conversion therapy are more likely to earn 52% of the votes by likely voters.
  • Over one-quarter of the state’s House of Representatives are co-sponsoring the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, mostly due in part to organizing efforts by BCTK.
  • According to a survey by BCTK bipartisan support in the Kentucky State House and Senate was nearly at 50%. The organization says that six recently elected Republicans have pledged to cosponsor the bill as well.

Tanner Austin Mobley, Executive Director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky told GLAAD: “There’s a national conversation around the urgent need to protect minors from so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ and right now Kentucky is at the heart of this conversation. Our polling shows that Republicans and Democrats, evangelicals and Catholics alike agree that it’s time for Kentucky to protect our LGBTQ youth – but to make this bill a reality, leadership needs to prioritize this issue and take action right away. It’s not just the right thing to do – but it’s also politically popular, across the political spectrum.”

Statement from Serena Sonoma, GLAAD Communication’s Coordinator and Regional Media Lead, U.S. South:

“‘Conversion’ therapy has been proven to have detrimental effects on the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth, who are the most vulnerable targets of this destructive pseudoscientific practice.

To believe that the sexual or gender identities of young people can be altered or changed by force is ludicrous and abhorrent. Studies such as that from the Williams Institute reveal that conversion therapy is not about the will of young people but the selfish will of harmful adults. Instead of torturing our LGBTQ+ youth with abusive tactics such as conversion therapy, we must allow them to express their own identities in any way they so choose.

The momentum in Kentucky to ban conversion therapy should inspire all states to do the same, and work to affirm and protect LGBTQ youth just as they are.”

According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), 20 states currently ban conversion therapy for minors, these include New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Hawaii, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, Maine, Utah, and Virginia. One state, North Carolina, partially bans conversion therapy for minors.

GLAAD has followed the impact conversion therapy has on LGBTQ+ Kentuckians and can connect the media to survivors upon request, including Zach Meiners, and connect to leaders of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky.