Maryland delegate says her parents, including a state senator, pushed her to use conversion therapy

When Del. Meagan Simonaire implored her colleagues Wednesday to ban conversion therapy for children, she spoke in the third person, as if the story she was telling had happened to someone else.

The Anne Arundel County Republican spoke of a bisexual girl whose parents suggested using the therapy to "fix" her sexual orientation.


She spoke of a girl who feared a teenage romance with another girl would tear her family apart — and then watched her fears come true.

Then Simonaire revealed the truth: She was that girl.


Less than a week earlier, her father, state Sen. Bryan Simonaire, had argued passionately to keep conversion therapy legal.

Now the 27-year-old delegate argued against him, never mentioning his name, urging a ban on the practice of trying to convert young gay, lesbian or transgender people into heterosexuals. She called it a matter of "basic human decency."

In her four years in the General Assembly, Simonaire had never spoken publicly about her sexual orientation. But in front of more than 135 colleagues, Simonaire told her story as if it belonged to a stranger.

"Prior to her interest in girls, she was the light of her parents' eyes," she said. "But now she is left with the impact of going through the self-hatred, depression and shame, even though her parents truly believed that they were trying to help her.

"If this bill keeps even one child from that, it will be worth sharing my story today."

Delegates voted 95-27 Wednesday to approve the bill.

It cleared the Senate last week 34-12. Sen. Bryan Simonaire voted against it.

Senator Simonaire, also an Anne Arundel Republican, argued on the Senate floor that banning conversion therapy by licensed medical providers would simply send people to unlicensed counselors. He questioned why it should be banned at all.


"Not a single person testified of abusive situations in Maryland, whether physical or mental," he said during the floor debate last week. "I'm really wondering what the problem is if we can't identify it."

The next day, he argued that the ban was written too broadly.

"I wonder if Jesus would have been banned if he had been licensed in Maryland," he said.

The senator said Wednesday that the family first learned about his daughter's teenage relationship a year ago. He and his wife recommended Christian counseling, he said, but he wasn't even aware of the term "conversion therapy."

"I'm totally against abusive conversion therapy," he said. He wasn't thinking of his daughter at all during the Senate debate last week, he said, and he respects her independence of mind.

"We have seven kids, and they all come to us for advice. They're free to do whatever they want," Simonaire said. "I don't agree with her lifestyle, but that's her personal choice."


Meagan Simonaire is the family's third oldest child and, at 27, the youngest member of the General Assembly. She rarely engages in floor debate. She said she spoke on Wednesday "to be the voice of children who are currently subjected to conversion therapy — a therapy that licensed medical professionals have for years debunked as ineffective, inappropriate and flat-out dangerous."

"If you hear anything I say today, hear this: What is not broken cannot be fixed," she said.

She talked about the need to protect young LGBT people from "well-meaning" parents "who are afraid their child will live a 'harder life' if they are gay, or that God will not bless them.

"These 'good parents' believe they are doing everything in their power to help their child that they love so much," she said. "Even well-intentioned parents can wind up inflicting significant emotional damage that can potentially last a lifetime."

Simonaire said she never went to conversion therapy, but was devastated that her parents wanted it for her.

Father and daughter have represented the same Pasadena district in northern Anne Arundel County for the past four years. Bryan Simonaire was first elected to the Senate 12 years ago, and is seeking a fourth term in November. Meagan Simonaire is not running for a second term in the House.


After Meagan Simonaire spoke, she was embraced by tearful members of the legislature's LGBT Caucus, who called her "brave" and told her they were proud. They posed for photos and escorted her out of the chamber to keep her away from a pack of reporters and television cameras. She declined to comment further.

"That was amazing," Del. Bonnie Cullison said.

Cullison's eyes filled with tears as she said listening to Simonaire reminded her of her own struggle as a young person grappling with her sexual identity, and how free she felt when she embraced who she was.

"It was incredible courage," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "Her fortitude in even getting through the whole speech was amazing."

The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who supports it.

Senator Simonaire said he would have chosen a different forum for his daughter to talk about their family, but that he's not upset with her.


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"I unconditionally love her and always will," he said.

Father and daughter texted after the speech, which he thought was a little off topic because his daughter was 26 when she broached her sexuality with her parents.

The ban on conversion therapy for minors, he said, would not apply in her circumstances.

"It's much ado about nothing," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.