With the turning of a page of the calendar to a new year comes a host of new laws on the books in Nevada, among them is a law banning therapists from engaging in something dubbed conversion therapy.
The new law makes it illegal for any psychotherapist in Nevada to provide conversion therapy to anyone under the age of 18. That is defined as “any practice or treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person.”
This therapy is barred “regardless of the willingness of the person or his or her parent or legal guardian to authorize such therapy.” The bill description justifies this usurpation of individual and parental rights by claiming the practice is ineffective and potentially harmful.
What is therapy? It is speech.
The bill specifically prohibits a professional health care provider from talking to an underage patient about whether their gender confusion is real or not, but just as specifically allows support or confirmation for “a person undergoing gender transition …” or provides “acceptance, support and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s ability to cope, social support and identity exploration and development …”
One may not discourage a patient’s gender feelings but may encourage. Thus only speech that contains the government-approved content is permitted.
The courts have repeatedly ruled that laws that limit speech based solely on its content violates the First Amendment.
In a recent article, Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians, reported that she had a male patient who between the ages of 3 and 5 increasingly played with “girl toys” and said he was a girl. She referred the parents and the boy to a therapist, who discovered that the boy had a younger special needs sister who required a significant amount of attention from her parents. The boy perceived that his parents preferred girls and thus he would become one.
“With family therapy Andy got better,” Cretella wrote.
In Nevada, that therapist now could have his or her license revoked for engaging in conversion therapy.
Presumably under this law, a therapist could be punished for telling a patient that 80 to 95 percent of all children who express feelings of gender dysphoria abandon those feelings upon maturity and that more than 80 percent of youth claiming to experience same-sex attractions in late childhood and adolescence identified themselves as exclusively heterosexual upon becoming adults.
Would telling a minor to wait and let nature take its course violate the law?
In the waning days of the 2017 legislative session the bill that is now law was amended in an attempt to protect religious counselors from being punished under the law, but it is a contortion that adds only confusion.
That amendment stated “there is nothing in this bill that regulates or prohibits licensed health care professionals from engaging in expressive speech or religious counseling with such children if the licensed health care professionals: (1) are acting in their pastoral or religious capacity as members of the clergy or as religious counselors; and (2) do not hold themselves out as operating pursuant to their professional licenses when so acting in their pastoral or religious capacity.”
So, which hat is the professional licensee wearing when talking to a child about gender? The pastor hat or the doctor hat?
Unfortunately, the federal circuit courts have rejected arguments that a similar California law violates both the free exercise of religion and free speech aspects of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court has thus far declined to hear appeals.
Now that the law is on the books in Nevada and livelihoods are in jeopardy, someone should take another stab at challenging the constitutionality of this law in court.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.