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Levi Foster of Anchorage said it’s taken him decades to recover from the “emotional abuse and manipulation” he experienced while he was subjected to conversion therapy, the largely discredited practice that attempts to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
He said that experience is what led him, and other survivors and advocates, to speak in front of the state House Health and Social Services committee Thursday afternoon in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Sara Hannan, a Juneau Democrat, that would ban licensed physicians, psychiatrists and other “practitioners of the healing arts” from providing conversion treatment to minors or vulnerable adults in the state of Alaska.
“I was told I was broken, and needed to be fixed, and would be unlovable living a sad, lonely life,” he said, virtually.
Currently, more than 20 states and the District of Columbia have placed bans on conversion therapy for minors. Hannan told the committee passing this bill in Alaska would help address the high suicide rates among Alaska’s LGBTQ+ youth.
“This is an area I believe we can make inroads in reducing the harm to LBGTQ+ youth who exhibit the most at-risk factors in suicidal crisis in our youth,” she said.
According to a 2020 report by Alaska’s health department, suicide was the leading cause of death for teens over 15 years old in the state, and Alaska’s adolescent suicide rate has consistently been around three times higher than the national average in recent years.
Dustin Morris, Alaska area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, spoke to the committee and expressed the foundation’s support for the bill and said it aligns with Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s pro-child values.
Morris said the state’s suicide rate continues to go up at a rapid pace and pointed to 2021 statistics that found that year to include the highest number of suicides in the state on record.
“One in eight Alaska children who identify as LGBTQ+ attempted suicide within the last year — that’s a lot,” he said. “More can do more to support our youth and adults, our vulnerable population, and this bill does just that.”
Another advocate and survivor of conversion therapy, Mathew Shurka, shared his story of conversion therapy, calling it “artificial, humiliating and demeaning.”
Shurka, who leads a campaign advocating for conversion therapy survivors with the National Center of Lesbian Rights, urged the passing of the bill, arguing it would protect the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth in Alaska.
Committee members Rep. Jesse Sumner, a Wasilla Republican, and Rep. Zack Fields, an Anchorage Democrat, expressed confusion over the bill’s language, which they characterized as broad and said could be interpreted to unintentionally include placing a ban on gender-affirming therapy.
Fields recommended more clarifying language to ensure the bill targets conversion therapy specifically.
The bill was set aside for future hearings.