Anne Arundel delegate who came out as bisexual during conversion therapy debate changes parties

Del. Meagan Simonaire checked a box Monday and switched from Republican to Democrat, a move she said will allow her to remain true to herself and her more conservative Anne Arundel County constituents after coming out as bisexual earlier this year during a debate on the House floor.

The registration switch – made in the presence of state Democratic Party officials – caps a turbulent six months from when Simonaire, 28, took the floor and urged the House to ban “conversion therapy” for LGBT youth — a position placing her at odds with her father, a Republican state senator.

Simonaire, who is not seeking re-election, said Monday she needed to be transparent with her constituents.

“I believe it is respectful not only to them, but for me, as well, to have somebody represent them who will be able to continue to vote for their conservative values that I would not be able to any more,” she said in an interview.

Simonaire made the switch in Annapolis at the State Board of Elections. As members of the media and a handful of Democratic lawmakers watched, she sat a table and checked a box on a voter registration form next to the words “Party Affiliation Change.” The party officials clapped when an elections worker stamped the form.

“We welcome Del. Simonaire into the Democratic Party,” said state party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews, who was there to greet her. “I know it wasn’t an easy decision for you.”

Matthews said the party would be a good fit because its values include equality and respect.

During her speech in April on the House of Delegates floor, Simonaire urged her colleagues to vote for legislation making Maryland the 11th state to ban licensed practitioners from offering treatments to minors that claim to change sexual orientation. She started her remarks as if she was 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, Anne Arundel County Republican Sen. Bryan Simonaire, who had argued in the state Senate against banning conversion therapy.

Laws banning conversion therapy have become increasingly popular around the country as professional groups reject the practice as potentially harmful. Meagan Simonaire’s story gained traction in the national media because it pitted the delegate and her father against each other legislatively.

Simonaire’s floor speech was “one of the bravest moments that I’ve ever witnessed in the legislature,” said Del. Bonnie Cullison, a Montgomery County Democrat who attended Monday’s event. “It took a great deal of personal courage for her to stand up and tell that story in a way that was compelling to people.”

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

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed the conversion therapy ban in May.

Meagan Simonaire said Monday she remains close to her father.

“I talked to him and the rest of my family,” she said of her party switch. “My dad and I have always been close. And we’ve had a lot of differences along the way, whether the rest of the world knew about them or not. At the end of the day, he loves me and he’s my dad. And I love him.”

Bryan Simonaire could not be reached Monday through email or cell phone.

His daughter had previously announced that she would not seek re-election. She said her “values and my views had shifted quite drastically, and I didn’t think it was fair to my constituents, or to me, to be representing them if it was not their views anymore.”

Simonaire is one of the General Assembly’s youngest members. Her priorities have included aiding human trafficking victims and homeless youth. She works as a cosmetic tattoo artist to provide permanent makeup and tattoos that create replacement eyebrows and other features for people such as cancer survivors.

Her district, 31B, has two delegates: herself and House Minority Leader Nic Kipke. Simonaire won her first and only term in 2014. She collected 37.4 percent of the vote, easily surpassing the closest Democratic challenger.

Besides Kipke, Republican Brian Chisholm is on the ballot this November. The Democrats running are Harry Freeman and Karen Simpson.

Simonaire said she favored the Democratic Party because it “is fighting for equality for all Americans — minorities, the LGBTQ community, victims of gun violence” and others.

“President Trump regularly attacks minorities, women and anyone who does not agree with him, and I can no longer remain a part of a party that condones his divisive rhetoric. It’s reprehensible,” she said.

After what she called the “surreal events” of the legislative session, Simonaire said she has received hundreds of letters, emails and social media messages.

She singled out a few on Monday.

“I’m a Republican in Pasadena and I have a son who’s gay,” she said, paraphrasing one message.

She then described another: “My daughter came out and I didn’t know how to handle it and thank you so much for saying this because now I know just to love her.”

Simonaire said she was gratified at the response. “It just really goes to show how much one bill can make a difference in a person’s life on a personal level,” she said.

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