By Jamie Leary
DENVER (CBS4) – A bill to ban conversion therapy narrowly passed out of the Public Health Care and Human Services Committee 7-6, a passing vote but with a clear divide among party lines.READ MORE: $30,000 Reward Now Offered In 1970 Murder Of Marilee Burt
HB18-1245 passed Tuesday with all no votes reportedly coming from Republican lawmakers.
The goal of the bill is to ban conversion therapy all together. So far, nine states have voted to pass a ban, but in Colorado, a proposed ban has failed to pass the last three times it was introduced.
Proponents say it’s a dangerous practice which approaches same sex preferences as a mental illness.
“Conversion therapists believe there is no such thing as being gay or LGBTQ and they believe it’s all rooted in childhood trauma,” said Mathew Shurka, 29.
Shurka spent five years in conversion therapy. He testified Tuesday about the harm it did to him as a teenager.
“I didn’t speak to my mom and my sisters for three years and that was a part of my treatment to de-feminize and make sure I only identified as a male,” he said.
Shurka said his breaking point was when he started to hear a theme. After five years, he was told by every conversion therapist, many “ex-gay,” that he would never get rid of his desire, but would learn how to control it.
“They treated their same sex desires as alcohol or addiction and as long as you don’t do it you’re fine.” He continued, “In the end it will never go away and you have to treat it that way.”
Shurka said the therapy tore his family apart. He was forced to disconnect from the women in his life he loved and could only associate with men who were confident in their sexuality. He said his father and therapist encouraged him to take Viagra.
While Shurka has rekindled his relationship with his mother, he was on the brink of suicide. He wants to protect youth from the same experience.READ MORE: Colorado Air Force Reserve Takes To The Skies For Wildfire Training
“The therapist is there to reflect and guide them, who they can be empowered by, who they are which we call affirmative therapy, to affirm whoever they are and to live a great life,” Shurka said.
Opponents to the ban say it’s a parent’s right to have it as an option. There is also the religious exemption the bill does not account for.
“Unfortunately, this bill goes too far at reducing parental rights, restricting the rights of patients families and licensed therapists, all while providing no religious exemptions for faith communities,” said Jeff Hunt, Vice President of Public Policy for Colorado Christian University.
Hunt testified on Tuesday and said he wanted to make it clear CCU does not believe in many of the methods sometimes associated with conversion therapy. He expressed concern with the suicide rate in Colorado, especially among the LGBT community. Hunt believes conversion therapy can save youth from this experience.
“I am particularly concerned. CCU is particularly concerned with the high suicide rates among this community. When I see that people who are fully transitioned in gender are still 19 times more likely to commit suicide, I am deeply troubled by that. Unfortunately, this bill reduces the very options that could be life saving to people by going too far,” Hunt said.
At least two people testified that conversion therapy was successful form of treatment for them and encouraged committee members to vote down the bill.
“Unfortunately this bill goes too far in restricting options for patients, families licensed therapists and religious communities and I ask you to vote no,” said Hunt.
Proponents of the ban said Tuesday they hope the fourth time is a charm.
“I’m not interested in taking away freedom of speech or parental rights, I want to know that teenagers in Colorado are protected. That they have the freedom to go and see a therapist and talk about whatever they want. Whatever they’re feeling what they’re going through,” said Shurka.
Tuesday marked the clearance of the first big hurdle for HB18-1245, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes law.MORE NEWS: Denver Chefs Team Up To Fundraise For AAPI Causes: 'We Need To Do Something More'
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.