Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation this week banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth across the state. The move makes Virginia the first southern state to do so.
Conversion therapy is a practice used to try to change sexual orientation or gender identity. The American Psychological Association says it's not based in science and is harmful to mental health.
Emily Sproul, Executive Director of the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center in Staunton, said conversion therapy leads to much higher rates of suicide for LGBTQ youth than their peers.
Sproul said despite that, conversion therapy has still been practiced in the Shenandoah Valley.
The newly approved law will ban anyone who is a licensed health professional from attempting this kind of therapy for anyone under the age of 18. It doesn't apply to faith communities, but Sproul said the legislation being passed will send a message to youth across the state.
"They are valued just as they are, that there's really nothing wrong with them, and that gives them the confidence to go out there and pursue all of their dreams and be the amazing wonderful people they were born to be," Sproul said.
Sproul believes this legislation is a great victory for communities all across the state. While she says the real victory will be communities changing over time to be more accepting of the LGBTQ population, Sproul is excited about the progress.
"Virginia is the new frontier for the south as far as changing the narrative around LGBT identities, increasing support for those folks so that they can be productive, wonderful citizens," Sproul said.
Sproul believes facing discrimination will still be a challenge for LGBTQ youth, but this law will allow them to push back when things are unfair.
Violation of the law, which goes into effect July 1, would be grounds for disciplinary action by state health regulators.
Several Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in passing the measure.
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