Attorney: New law infringes on legal rights of counselors

Friday, March 6, 2020
Chris Woodward (

Counselor listening to childAn attorney with Liberty Counsel sees several negatives in legislation recently signed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) that bans counseling for minors with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity issues.

"First of all, these bans are misnamed 'conversion therapy' bans," says Roger Gannam of Liberty Counsel, a law firm with offices in states such as Virginia. In its coverage of the bill, the Associated Press calls it conversion therapy.

"What these laws actually do," Gannam continues, "is they tell a licensed counselor what he or she can or cannot say in a counseling session with a young person who is there voluntarily and who, in a lot of cases, simply wants to have a conversation about what to do with unwanted same-sex attractions or unwanted gender-identity conflicts."

In Gannam's view, these laws are unconstitutional. "They violate the free-speech rights of licensed counselors who simply want to be guided by their client goals," he argues. "And if that client wants to discuss change or the possibility of change to get rid of unwanted attractions or unwanted identity conflicts, this law says the counselor can't even have that conversation."

Proponents of the legislation allege that so-called "conversion therapy" involves things like shock treatments or lobotomies – but that's far from the truth, says Gannam.


"They say that's why we need this kind of law," he adds. "[But] the reality is that no one is doing shock therapy, no one is putting kids into camps or into therapy coercively or involuntarily – because that simply doesn't work."

According to the attorney, "any licensed counselor will tell you" that if that young person doesn't want to be there, there's simply no point in going forward with counseling.

"Because self-autonomy, self-direction is one of the highest ethics in the counseling professions and that, accompanied with informed consent, show why these licensed counselors let a client decide what the goals of therapy should be, and then talk about whatever the client wants to talk about," says Gannam.

A dozen Republicans in Virginia joined their Democratic Party colleagues in voting for the ban on counseling for minors with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender-identity issues. Eleven of the 12 are in the House of Delegates. The other, State Senator Jill Vogel (R), broke with all the Republicans in the Senate to vote in favor of the bill.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have bans on this type of counseling. Virginia is the first state in the South to enact such a ban.

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