The ban, which goes into effect July 1, makes Virginia the first state in the South to bar licensed medical professionals from practicing conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors.
Virginia is now the 20th state to ban conversion therapy for minors after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed the LGBTQ rights measure this week.
The ban, which goes into effect July 1, makes Virginia the first state in the South to bar licensed medical professionals from practicing conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors. Maryland and D.C. already have outlawed the widely discredited and harmful practice, which attempts to force someone to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Conversion therapy sends the harmful message that there is something wrong with who you are," Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist, said in a statement. "This discriminatory practice has been widely discredited in studies and can have lasting effects on our youth, putting them at a greater risk of depression and suicide. No one should be made to feel they are not okay the way they are — especially not a child. I'm proud to sign this ban into law."
The law also makes it illegal to use state funds to conduct conversion therapy on minors.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), who sponsored House Bill 386, called conversion therapy a "dangerous, destructive practice." "We should be supporting and celebrating our LGTBQ youth, not putting them in harm's way," he said in a statement.
Studies have shown that those who are subjected to or who have willingly undergone conversion therapy experience higher rates of depression and suicide.
Youth who have undergone conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who did not, according to The Trevor Project's National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. A 2018 Journal of Homosexuality study shows LGBTQ people whose parents enlisted the help of a therapist or religious leader to change their sexual orientation between the ages of 13 and 19 had five-fold higher odds of dying by suicide.
Virginia's ban and others like it across the U.S. do not restrict conversion therapy practices among religious providers.
Earlier this year, lawmakers also passed the Virginia Values Act, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the Commonwealth's anti-discrimination protections in housing, employment, credit and public accommodations. Previously, LGBTQ people were not explicitly protected, meaning they were at risk of being fired, evicted or denied service. Virginia was also the first southern state to enact such a law.
For years, Democratic lawmakers have tried to expand protections for LGBTQ Virginians, but those bills stalled in the previously Republican-controlled legislature. But now, with Democrats controlling both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion, a slew of new civil rights protections are working their way through the General Assembly.