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State health officials take steps to ban conversion therapy

The Virginia Board of Psychology has issued a letter of guidance stating that conversion therapy should be considered a violation of standard practices — which LGBTQ advocates hope is a major step toward halting the practice.  

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By Jayla Marie McNeill

The Virginia Board of Psychology has issued a letter of guidance stating that conversion therapy should be considered a violation of standard practices — which LGBTQ advocates hope is a major step toward halting the practice.

Conversion therapy, which aims to change the sexual orientation, gender expression or identity of LGBTQ individuals, has been banned in several states across the U.S. but is still legal in Virginia.

The current debate to outlaw conversion therapy goes back to the state Capitol. In recent years, Democratic lawmakers have proposed bills to outlaw the practice, but the legislation repeatedly died in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. As a result, state agencies are taking the matter into their own hands.

Several of the Virginia licensing and regulatory boards that form the Department of Health Professions are working to end conversion therapy on minors by licensed professionals.

The Virginia Board of Psychology released a guidance document in January that states practicing conversion therapy could result in “a finding of misconduct and disciplinary action against the licensee or registrant.” The board also opened an online forum in February for public comments. That forum, which closed on March 20, received over500 responses, with a vast majority in favor of the ban.

The Board of Counseling is still currently accepting public comments on a similar document in an online forum open until April 17.

“Conversion therapy is a disgusting practice which seeks to invalidate the LGBTQ community,” stated Zachary Whitten, a proponent of the ban, in the online forum. “I see no way Virginia can proclaim itself an inclusive commonwealth . . . if it allows such a horrifying and undignified practice.”

LGBTQ advocates also support the ban and claim that such therapy inflicts psychological

harm on minors — even leading to depression and suicide.

“Virginia law already prohibits discredited and unsafe practices by licensed therapists,” stated Equality Virginia, an advocacy group working on behalf of the LGBTQ community in Virginia. “The guidance will curb harmful practices known to produce lifelong damage to those who are subjected to them and help ensure the health and safety of LGBTQ youth.”

Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. have implemented regulations and licensing restriction against conversion therapy.

The Virginia Catholic Conference does not support the proposed ban, claiming it exceeds governmental authority by giving the board “sweeping authority to sanction counselors’ speech and engage in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

The VCC also argues that the ban violates First Amendment rights and undermines traditional family roles.

Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, contends that “parents are closest to their children’s challenges.”

“They know their unique needs and are in best position to identify solutions. … Just as parents must give consent for over-the-counter medications, field trips, and extracurricular activities, they have the constitutional right to guide mental health care for their children,” Caruso stated.

Many national health and medical associations have dismissed the practice as ineffective and damaging to the health of LGBTQ youth. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from a list of mental illnesses.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, conversion therapies “lack scientific credibility and clinical utility” and could “increase [the] risk of causing or exacerbating mental health condition in the very youth they purport to treat.”

Almost a year ago, the Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists submitted a statement to the Virginia Board of Psychology, which stated that “conversion therapy should be considered as a violation of standards of practice in that rendering such services is considered to have real potential of jeopardizing the health and well-being of patients.”

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Senate advances bill allowing transgender people to change birth certificate

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

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By Rodney Robinson

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

Senate Bill 657 would allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect a change of sex, without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change.

“I just think it’s important to try to make life easier for people without being discriminated [against] or bullied,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “Allowing an individual who is transgender to change their birth certificate without having to go through the full surgery allows them to live the life that they are due to have.”

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a specific standard approach for an individual’s transition. Treatment could include any of the following: counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similar process is required to obtain a passport after a change of sex, according to the State Department.

Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health vital records department, Boysko said.

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents in situations like leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced the bill. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee in previous years, but Boysko believes the bill has a better chance of becoming law this year.

“I believe that we have a more open and accepting General Assembly then we’ve had in the past, where people are more comfortable working with the LGBTQ community and have expressed more of an interest in addressing some of these long-overdue changes,” Boysko said.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the organization is “really pleased that this bill is moving through.”

“This bill is really important for the transgender community,” Lamneck said. “Right now many transgendered people do not have identity documents … this is really problematic when people apply for jobs or try to open a bank account.”

There are 22 other states in America that have adopted legislation similar to this, including the District of Columbia, Boysko said. The senator said that “it’s time for Virginia to move forward and be the 23rd state.”

The Senate also passed Tuesday Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, along with bill outlawing conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.

The bills now advance to the House, where they must pass before heading to the governor’s desk.

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Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic Opens

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From the Valentine:

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic, a new exhibition opening on January 23, will feature oral histories and black-and-white photographic portraits, focusing on the personal stories of those affected by HIV/AIDS in Richmond.

Richmond’s rate of HIV infection, currently ranked 19thnationally, is exacerbated by high concentrations of poverty, lack of sex education in public schools and the continuing opioid epidemic. Despite years of medical and social progress, misconceptions about HIV/AIDS persist today.

While Americans on average have a one-in-99 chance of contracting HIV over the course of their lifetime, the odds for a gay black man are one in two. Black women have a rate of HIV infection 17.6 times that of white women. In fact, in Richmond, women make up a quarter of new HIV diagnoses.

Laura Browder and Patricia Herrera, both professors at the University of Richmond, collected 30 oral histories in an effort to put faces to these surprising statistics.

“The process has transformed our understanding not only of the epidemic, but more broadly of the way people can turn what one assumes to be a life-destroying event into an opportunity for making change,” said Herrera.“Many of the people we met lived lives charged with purpose—including, most urgently, to prevent others from becoming infected with the virus.”

“Most people outside of the public health community think that HIV is a disease that primarily affects gay, white men. We learned how far from the reality that is,” Browder continued. “The people represented in the exhibition include great-grandmothers, undocumented immigrants, college professors, church deacons and transgendered people. They include public health officials, HIV educators, medical providers, activists, and those who have lost loved ones to HIV.”

Local photographer Michael Simon produced the black-and-white portraits that communicate share the trials and triumphs of each person featured in Voices.

Rodney Lofton, August 2018 – Photographed by Michael Simon for the Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic

“These stories and these portraits are important to all of us,” said Simon. “These people are members of our community. They are friends and family and we need to remember that we are all in this fight together.”

 

“Featuring the powerful oral histories collected by Laura and Patricia and Michael’s phenomenal photography, we hope this exhibition contributes to an important ongoing discussion about the true impact of HIV/AIDS on the Richmond community,” Valentine Director Bill Martin said. 

 

In coordination with the exhibition opening, Nationz Foundation, a local non-profit providing education, information and programming related to HIV, will be conducting free on-site HIV testing noon to 4 p. m. on Thursday, January 23 at the Valentine.

 

“Nationz Foundation is excited to partner with the Valentine Museum during the Voices exhibit!” said Nationz Foundation Executive Director Zakia McKensey. “It is extremely important to get tested. Knowing your status is one sure way to prevent the spread of the infection. We will be on site providing Rapid HIV testing for free, so please stop by and get your results in 60 seconds.”

 

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic will be on display through May 25, 2020.

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ReRunner Clothing Drive at Quirk

A chance to help others and declutter your closet all this week at Quirk.

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The good folks at Quirk Hotel (201 W Broad Street) are hosting a clothing drive this week.

From Jan. 20-26, people can drop off their gently used clothing and shoes to the Quirk hotel lobby, and they will get 10% discount at Maple & Pine and ReRunner. As an added bonus tonight Wednesday, January 22nd, from 4-6 pm there will be a Happy Hour at Quirk for people to drop off clothes, mingle and a portion of drinks will go to benefit Goodwill.

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