I write in support of Guidance Document 125-9, which would ban so-called “conversion therapy” by licensed psychologists in Virginia for those under 18. Today, I am President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, but I submit these comments not in that capacity but as a citizen of the Commonwealth and former Chief of Staff for Governor George Allen, to advance the same principles that we promoted when in office: Free Enterprise, Competitiveness, Individual Liberty and Equal Opportunity. Allowing individuals to come to terms with their authentic selves, to live honestly and to not endure painful, often forced, efforts to break them of who they are and of what they feel will help our Commonwealth and all people strengthen these core pillars of an exceptional America.
As a gay man myself, I know this conclusion to be true. There was a time that I thought I could change who I was and would consider any methods to do so, or ignore this side of myself, from trusted mentors, counselors and spiritual advisors. I wanted to make my parents proud, and to see their dreams for me fulfilled. So, coming to terms with who I was had me wrestle with many doubts, great fears and tortured thoughts—to find a different way to live and feel.
In my formative years, I turned to my studies, work and public service to wall-off this side of me, hoping that somehow my feelings would evolve. Over the years, I came to terms with the truth that I could not change who I was created to be, and ought not to, bolstered by people in my life who encouraged me that the path of truth and authenticity was the only way to live—and to love. I have the benefit of looking at my husband, Rick Olson, and our 3 children, C.J., Ellie and Jacob today knowing that advice made my life whole.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the benefit from this support structure and not everyone has seen their true life come to term. So-called conversation therapy has robbed people of their lives and created a whole class of survivors who have struggled in the face of individuals telling them they are not normal, challenging their relationships with their parents and family and working to distort their minds and their feelings. As a current colleague had said in The Washington Post seven years ago: “Imagine routinely hearing from a so-called expert that your mother had harmed you and that your father had failed you, despite having two loving parents who sacrificed career pursuits and much else to see you realize your dreams. Think about subjecting yourself to shock therapy — the most awful pain — as your therapist showed you images of same-sex relationships in an effort to break you of your natural feelings.” That colleague came close to ending his life. These impacts are why the medical community has concluded that conversion therapy does not work, and that it often harms people and families.
As a people who value life, each individual and every family, because of their intrinsic worth and because they strengthen those pillars that make our country great, we must commit to end this practice that targets those very foundations of our society. While we can, and must, respect the role of religious institutions and counselors in helping all individuals live better lives and confront the great questions of life, we cannot give state-sanction to a harmful practice that puts young people and other individuals at risk of death and limits so many individuals’ potential to contribute to our families, our communities and our country.
I urge favorable action on Guidance Document 125-9.