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Maryland Lawmakers Move To Ban Gay Conversion Therapy


This is the time of year when a lot of state legislatures meet. And while the politics are juicy, let's face it, the actual work often is not. The subjects run through important-but-dry issues like funding formulas for schools and roads and professional licensing standards. And while sometimes legislatures are in the spotlight because of big issues like gun violence and teacher salaries, every now and again, there are also small moments that catch fire and prompt deep emotion and even soul searching. There was a moment like that on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates last week as lawmakers debated a bill that cuts to the heart of many people's personal identities.

Joining us to talk about the bill in question and the surprising and heartfelt moment it sparked is Erin Cox. She is the State House bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun, and she was nice enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Erin, thank you so much for joining us.

ERIN COX: Oh, it's my pleasure.

MARTIN: So first of all, tell us about the bill that was just passed and is now awaiting signature by the governor. What does it do?

COX: It bans conversion therapy for any child to be given by a licensed professional.

MARTIN: And explain, you know, what that is for people who don't know.

COX: So this is a type of counseling often given to LGBT children to try to coax them or kind of convert them to recognize their sexual identity as heterosexual. So it is a therapy designed to tell LGBT people that there is another way to live, and you don't need to have the sexual orientation you do.

MARTIN: So there was an impassioned speech in support of this law from Maryland state delegate Meagan Simonaire. We actually have a clip of the speech. The audio is not great, so I'll just play a little bit.


MEAGAN SIMONAIRE: I want to tell you about a girl who grew up in the best family she could imagine.

MARTIN: As you can hear, the audio quality is kind of rough. So I'm going to read what Meagan Simonaire said. She said, I want to tell you about a girl who grew up in the best family she could imagine. She fell in love with a girl but kept it from her family out of fear of losing them. She finally told her family about the relationship. And then Delegate Simonaire went on to say that this girl's worst fears came true. She said her parents were heartbroken and disgusted by her devious actions and desperately wanted to get her the help she needed. Conversion therapy was their answer. Now, Erin, pick up the ball from there. What happened next?

COX: So as she was telling the story, she was telling it the third person, as if it had happened to someone other than herself. And so as she's telling the story, people start to realize that she knew details that no one would ever know unless it was about you. And the floor kind of ot silent. And they're watching her as she's explaining all of the pain that this girl went through knowing that her parents thought she needed to be fixed, that they couldn't accept her as who - as who she is. And at the very end of her speech, she says that if her story could help one other person, then it was worth telling.

MARTIN: And there's another twist to this story. That is Meagan Simonaire, was speaking, you know, very movingly and lovingly about her family. Tell us about her father.

COX: Her father has been a state senator for a dozen years. And just a week earlier, in the chamber across the hall, he was passionately arguing that conversion therapy should not be banned, that it needed to be available to people. And if you stopped letting licensed professionals give it, then then parents who were seeking this would just go to unlicensed professionals and that he - you know, he made it a religious issue. He made it a parental-choice issue. And then he talked very - very passionately about this, at one point even saying that, you know, would Jesus be banned from teaching if he was in Maryland now?

SIMONAIRE: So this is quite remarkable. You have a father serving in the state Senate on one side of the issue, a daughter serving in the House of Delegates on the other side of the issue literally on the other side of the hall. Has either of them spoken about this apart from their public comments?

COX: After his daughter gave the speech, Senator Simonaire was giving a couple of interviews talking about what he thought about his daughter speaking about their family this way. And he called it much ado about nothing. He almost made a point of parliamentary procedure here and said that, well, she told us about this when she was 26 and that's when we - we recommended Christian counseling to her. And he said this bill wouldn't apply to her. The bill only applies to conversion therapy for people 18 or under. I mean, he did say that he loves his daughter unconditionally and that he respects her choice to talk about it in this way. But he also said that he doesn't agree with what he called her lifestyle.

MARTIN: And what about Meagan Simonaire, has she spoken since?

COX: No, she's declined interviews.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, what - I know it's kind of a hard thing to assess, but how would you describe, kind of, the impact of all this on the legislators who heard this?

COX: You know, when she finished speaking she was surrounded by hugs, people from other parties, people who openly wept at her. And it kind of changed the tenor a little bit for a day. I mean, in the Maryland General Assembly, they're passing bills. They're moving very quickly. And it kind of took the whirlwind to a pause and everything stopped for a moment and people became real people connecting on real emotion. And it was quite beautiful, actually, and moving.

MARTIN: That's Erin Cox. She covers the Maryland State House for The Baltimore Sun. Erin, thank you.

COX: Absolutely. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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