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Grassroots group hopes public support buttresses efforts to ban conversion therapy

Posted at 11:31 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 23:31:40-05

(LEX 18) — A new poll commissioned by a grassroots group shows that there is increasing public support to put an end to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy.

Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky released its findings Tuesday after conducting a poll of 810 likely Kentucky voters from across the state between Jan 5-7.

According to the poll, 74% of likely voters oppose allowing children and teens under 18 to undergo conversion therapy to try to "change" one's sexual orientation.

The poll also showed that 63% of all Kentucky women and 52% of all Kentucky men support a law that would ban the practice, which advocates say is akin to torture.

"It is a pervasive issue," said Tanner Mobley, the executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky. "It's happening all over the state. It's happening all over the country."

In a conversation with LEX 18 Tuesday, Mobley said he and other advocates have been lobbying the state legislature to pass the Mental Health Protection Act in 2021.

"It's not only possible that it be passed this session," Mobley said. "But it's necessary."

According to the Trevor Project, 42% of adolescents who undergo some form of conversion therapy have attempted to end their own lives.

One of those people is Zach Meiners, 31, of Louisville.

"I felt like I was raised in a society that said, 'If you were this way, you were going to Hell and there's something wrong with you,'" Meiners recalled. "And I didn't want to go to Hell. I wanted to be loved."

Meiners said that when he was outed as gay at 14, church leaders told him they needed to "fix" him.

He told LEX 18 that he endured four years of psychological and emotional abuse. When he had a thought about another boy, for example, he was taught to inflict pain upon himself.

"It wasn't until years later that I understood that the therapy was what was causing the trauma and the problems, not the other way around," he said.

Even after the sessions stopped, the pain lingered. Meiners said he tried to hide who he was for at least another five years, pretending to be straight while only confiding his secret to close friends.

At 27, he came out.

"It just wasn't sustainable," he explained. "I knew that if I continued down this path, it was going to kill me."

Even then, he did not fully absorb the gravity of the trauma he endured.

"Once I found out that those people were still practicing, I knew that I had to come forward and tell my story," Meiners said.

This past summer, he testified about his experience in Frankfort, as he joined the chorus of people urging lawmakers to act.

"This practice is bad and it kills kids," he said Tuesday. "It's proven to be hurtful."