Earlier this month the Richmond City Council approved a non-binding resolution urging Virginia lawmakers to pass legislation next year prohibiting “conversion therapy” (i.e. talk therapy) that counselors use to help minors overcome unwanted sexual desires. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) described talk therapy as barbaric, abusive, inhumane and regressive in a Twitter statement applauding the resolution, and suggested that counselors should only be “affirming the sexual orientation and identities of all Richmonders.”
This news comes as the Virginia Boards for Counseling, Psychology, and Social Work have all initiated regulations that would impose penalties against counselors who engage in talk therapy, including potentially the revocation of their professional license.
Mayor Stoney and the Richmond City Council now join these regulatory boards in holding that counselors should be permitted to help a minor client to explore and facilitate same-sex feelings, attractions and behaviors, or even to “change” their sex altogether, but must be PROHIBITED from helping a minor client overcome these feelings and urges! This dangerous policy entraps minors in a lifestyle from which they desperately wish to escape and denies the fundamental free speech rights of professional counselors who legitimately wish to help them.
Compare this with the New York City Council, which recently overturned a 2017 policy that punished professional counselors if they provide biologically affirming therapy services to a minor seeking to overcome unwanted transgender feelings or same-sex attraction. The law was worded so broadly that it could apply to “any services,” including private conversations initiated by the patient.
What’s remarkable about this change is that LGBTQ advocates strongly urged the council members to overturn this law, not because they wanted it reversed, but because they fear that the courts may no longer uphold bans on “professional speech.”
Since the law’s passage, it has been challenged in court by Dr. Dovid Schwartz, an Orthodox Jewish psychotherapist who is facing severe penalties and fines for providing talk therapy to patients, and the U.S. Supreme court has handed down a ruling that strongly indicated that these talk therapy bans are not constitutional. In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NIFLA v. Becerra – a case involving the free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers – that speech isn’t unprotected because it's uttered by a professional, specifically rejecting to two lower court decisions that upheld “conversion therapy” bans.
Whether or not the New York City Council’s reversal of the 2017 law was in response to more conservative judges being added to courts or because of the NIFLA decision, the reversal is still a significant victory for many New York counselors that affirms their religious liberty and fundamental speech rights.
Let’s hope that the City of Richmond and Mayor Stoney will take their cue from New York City (just this once!) and recognize that prohibiting a counselor’s free speech is unconstitutional and rescind its misguided resolution.