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OKLAHOMA CITY — A House lawmaker said Tuesday he plans to propose a bill protecting a controversial therapy practice that aims to counsel away same-sex attractions in lesbian, gay and transgender Oklahomans.

State Rep. Randy Randleman, R-Eufaula, who is also a licensed psychologist, said a growing number of states are banning conversion therapy practices, and he wants to ensure something similar cannot happen in Oklahoma.

He said lawmakers managed to kill a measure last session that would have banned the practice and limited counselors from talking to children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender about God.

Randleman said the Oklahoma State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, of which he was a member prior to his election to the Legislature, should decide the merits of conversion therapy — not lawmakers.

He was among a vocal group of supporters who spoke in favor of protecting the rights of therapists to help tackle unwanted same-sex attractions, particularly in children under the age of 18 during a two-hour interim study Tuesday at the state Capitol.

“We believe the evidence will show that many people who have decided they want this change in their life have experienced what they regard as wonderful help and wonderful change in their lives,” said state Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland.

David Pickup, a national lobbyist for therapy rights and licensed therapist, said the term “conversion therapy” is used to cajole and belittle people politically by making the public think its supporters are “off their rockers.”

“It’s offensive, and I do hope all of us will choose another term,” Pickup said.

Pickup said he runs the only practice in Texas for people who are experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction and dysphoria that can lead to transgenderism.

“These issues are so controversial, and in my opinion, they don’t have to be,” he said.

He said 100% of those who come into his office and engage in “reintegrated therapy” believe their inborn feelings were caused by trauma.

“We don’t force children into therapy for anything,” he said. “What we do help are kids who are confused.”

He said right now the “LGBT agenda” says if “you’re homosexual, you must stay homosexual,” and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

“It’s not inborn, and it’s changeable,” Pickup said.

State lawmakers did not allow anyone to speak at the study that opposes the practice.

Brian West, president of Southeastern Equality (SeEq) - McAlester, said in an emailed statement that he is concerned that Randleman, a licensed psychologist, supports conversion therapy

"It would appear that the use of this hot-button issue that affects the lives of humans every day is an attempt to stir up controversy during election season," West said. "It is concerning that a representative in the legislature who is also a practicing psychologist appears to be supporting a practice that tortures children."

Oklahoma youth under the age of 18 are often forced into conversion therapy — even when they don’t want it, said Morgan Allen, center director with Oklahomans for Equality, in an interview before the interim study. The Tulsa-based group advocates to protect LGBT rights.

“This interim study we hope is just another nail in the coffin for conversion therapy that proves no matter what evidence you show for conversion therapy, it is not enough,” Allen said. “The evidence is bunk. We need to get rid of it. For us to keep protecting this harmful practice, it reflects badly on our state. It reflects badly on government and our leadership.”

She said 20 states have banned the practice outright and one has partially banned it. The other 29 have no law or policy regarding it.

Allen said there’s a misconception that “pray the gay away camps” no longer happen, but they do. Highly religious circles, meanwhile, use the practice frequently on children under the guise that it’s best for their souls.

She said the practice leads to increased rates of suicide, long-term psychological damage and emotional harm to children.

“There’s nothing but harm that comes from conversion therapy,” Allen said. “It’s really a practice in bad faith. You do not want to be led astray and told something will work when it will not work no matter how much you pray it away. People who go through conversion therapy will tell you time and time again (that) they do not lose their same-sex feelings.”

She noted that most reputable medical groups, including the top national psychiatry and psychological associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association, don’t support the practice.

Dr. Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, said the number of people who identify as LGBT have increased from 1% to 4% of the population since the early 1900s.

She said Oklahoma lawmakers must protect the counseling option because many factors that contribute to the feeling that a child is LGBT, including vulnerability, environment, family difficulties, trauma, abuse and individual choices made. Cretella said others have traced their “unwanted same-sex attractions” to viewing pornography and becoming addicted to it.

When questioned, she admitted there is a 14 to 24% failure rate to help youth for whatever reason.

“No one is perfect,” she said. “No one has a 100% successful healing track record. And that’s why counseling choice is so important to maintain. That’s why it’s so important not to force anyone into one choice or another. And that’s what conversion therapy bans do.”

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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