Name something on the agenda for Democrats in Congress and it's likely DOA — including a bill to protect LGBT kids, which the Republican majority let die last year without a hearing. And yet, buoyed by their progressive constituency and resolve to set themselves apart from the Trump administration, Democrats will take another shot this year. The bill — to be filed Tuesday by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Ted Lieu — would ban services that claim to turn gay people straight or make transgender people identify with their birth sex.
Known as conversion therapy, the treatment is denounced by critics who say it amounts to torturing kids, noting that top medical groups have repeatedly discredited the supposed cures as snake oil. Seven states prohibit the practice, most recently with a law approved this month in New Mexico.
Yet the programs remain legal in much of the United States, popular with some religious conservatives who say being LGBT is a choice. Vice President Mike Pence has faced scrutiny for comments he made during a Congressional run in 2000 — comments that he insisted were not about conversion therapy — supporting groups that "provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior."
So Democrats have pressed on in Congress.
The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, as filed in the Senate, would make it illegal to advertise or provide therapy that claims to "change another individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity" or to "eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender." Both the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general could enforce it.
The primary sponsors provided statements on Tuesday to BuzzFeed News, including Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey, who called the therapies a "fraudulent practice.” Sen. Murray’s statement said "the Trump Administration has laid out a hateful, damaging agenda to undo hard-won progress, divide our communities, hurt our friends, neighbors, and family members just because of who they are or who they love.”
Trump has been generally friendlier to LGBT rights than many Republicans, but he holds several anti-LGBT positions and he reversed a policy to protect transgender students. Several advisors for the administration's transition into the White House, such as Roger Severino of the Heritage Foundation and Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, hold strong anti-LGBT beliefs.
The question for Congressional Democrats is what they plan to do with the bill this time around. Is there a strategy to give it a better shot as passing (or even get a hearing), or do they hope that by filing it, they assure progressives they will not give up on LGBT kids? Or even, will they shame Republicans for blocking the bill?
When BuzzFeed News asked a spokesman for the Democratic senators how lawmakers would use the bill, he declined to answer. But by all reasonable speculation, the answer to all those questions is, yes.
There's another possibility, too. Republicans in Congress may warm up to conversion therapy bans, as they did in New Mexico, where several members of the GOP crossed the aisle to hand the bill a decisive win. The bill was then signed by Gov. Susana Martinez — a Republican — who said in a statement that conversion therapy "has been shown to cause harm to children."
In Congress, this year's bill has 21 co-sponsors in the Senate, which is two more than last year. In the House, there are 67 co-sponsors, which is down for now from the 96 last year. And for now, none of them is Republican.