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Maryland becomes 11th state to ban conversion therapy for LGBT youth as Gov. Hogan signs bill

Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill Tuesday making Maryland the 11th state to ban the practice of “conversion therapy” for LGBT youth.

He then turned and gave one of the ceremonial bill-signing pens to Del. Meagan Simonaire.

Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, came out as bisexual during a speech on the House floor last month as she urged her colleagues to vote for the legislation.

She had started her story as if she were talking about a constituent whose parents did not accept her sexuality. But she ended it by revealing she was talking about herself and her father, Sen. Bryan Simonaire — who had argued against banning conversion therapy in the Senate.

Before posing for a picture with Hogan and the bill’s proponents Tuesday, Del. Simonaire said she was excited to see the measure signed into law, though she said the events leading up to that moment had been “surreal.”

“I’m so happy that I did it,” Simonaire said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about being able to be real about for many years, and now I am.”

The bill was among more than 200 Hogan signed Tuesday — including measures to investigate corruption in the Baltimore Police Department, protect Marylanders from tax increases that new federal laws were set to trigger, and reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution from septic systems and farm runoff.

Laws banning conversion therapy have become increasingly popular around the country as professional groups reject the practice as a potentially damaging sham. Practitioners attempt to “convert” LGBT people into being heterosexual or “cisgender,” meaning that gender identity corresponds with birth sex.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat and the first openly gay state senator, said lawmakers and LGBT communities around the country are concerned that some parents don’t realize the harm conversion therapy can cause. He also said the laws have gained traction after Vice President Mike Pence expressed support for conversion therapy and advocated for using federal funding to treat people who want to change their sexual behavior.

“I totally think it’s a reaction to Mike Pence,” Madaleno said.

Maryland’s law, which takes effect Oct. 1, applies to licensed practitioners in the state and prohibits them from offering treatments to minors that claim to change sexual orientation. It does not prohibit counseling or therapy to help young people explore and develop their sexual or gender identities, and it does not restrict therapy given in church settings.

“It’s a significant move forward to say, ‘You know what? Be who you are,’ ” said Madaleno, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Mark Procopio, executive director of the advocacy group Free State Justice, said the new law — plus another Hogan signed Tuesday creating a grant program to fight youth homelessness — “will really protect LGBT youth and send a really strong, affirming message.”

Mathew Shurka, a New Yorker who testified to Maryland lawmakers as a “survivor” of five years of conversion therapy, called the new state law “a really important” step. He is a strategist with the Born Perfect campaign, which is pushing to make conversion therapy illegal nationwide.

The group estimates 78,000 teens will be subjected to conversion therapy over the next five years.

“This is getting us closer to zero,” Shurka said.

Bryan Simonaire, also an Anne Arundel Republican, had led opposition to the measure in the state Senate. He questioned whether it would have restricted the teachings of Jesus.

After his daughter spoke up on the House floor, he said he and his wife suggested she seek Christian counseling, not conversion therapy.

On Tuesday, Meagan Simonaire said her family is at peace, and her relationship with her father is tranquil.

“He disagrees with me on a lot of things,” she said. “Obviously this is more personal.

“But he’s my dad; he’ll always be my dad,” she added. “My whole family has been really amazing through the whole thing.”

Among other measures Hogan signed Tuesday were changes to state tax law that dominated much of the General Assembly’s 90-day legislative session earlier this year. He signed bills to give tax breaks to small businesses, retirees and veterans, and to allow Marylanders to continue to take certain exemptions and deductions on their state taxes even though they have have been removed from the federal tax code.

“Our administration has been focused on restoring our state’s economy and delivering long-needed relief for state taxpayers,” Hogan said before the bill-signing.

He signed legislation that gives incentives to septic system owners who have their tanks periodically emptied, and to farmers who use best management practices that reduce the amount of fertilizer that ends up fouling the Chesapeake Bay.

He thanked leaders of the Democrat-controlled legislature for “continuing to work together with us in a bipartisan fashion to keep changing Maryland for the better.”

And just as news came out that Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was resigning, Hogan signed a bill creating a commission to investigate corruption in the city police department. Last week De Sousa was charged with failing to file his federal tax return for three years.

Lawmakers said the commission is necessary after allegations of rampant wrongdoing in the department came to light during the trial of two officers who ultimately were convicted of federal corruption. Other members of the department’s Gun Trace Task Force pleaded guilty to similar misconduct.

“We don’t need to ever allow that kind of scandal to take place in Baltimore City ever again,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat. “We need to be proactive.”

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