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Washington state fights Tacoma therapist over conversion therapy

caption: The Trans Pride Seattle march crosses Broadway Street on Friday, June 22, 2018, near Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill.
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The Trans Pride Seattle march crosses Broadway Street on Friday, June 22, 2018, near Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Lawyers with the Washington Attorney General’s office are in federal court defending the state's ban on conversion therapy.

A lawyer for a Tacoma therapist and Washington state attorneys argued their case in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last Tuesday, May 17.

A panel of the 9th Circuit in Seattle is hearing the case.

It's over Washington's ban on conversion therapy, enacted in 2018, which prevents therapists from working with minors in a way that tries to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The law is based on research that the practice can inflict harm on LGBTQ youth.

"Efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity are ineffective and put minors at significant risk of harm, including elevated risks of suicidality, depression and elevated anxiety," argued attorney Cristina Sepe with the Washington state Attorney General's office.

Sepe argued that the ban should remain in place, saying conversation therapy leads to too much risk for minors involved.

Tacoma therapist Brian Tingley, who brought the case, disagreed. He said Washington's law is an infringement on speech and that it targets him as a Christian therapist.

Tingley's lawyer, Roger Brooks, said conversion therapy falls under the same category as marital counseling, concerning ones relationship goals. Part of his argument in court was that, "the first amendment tells us again and again that the fact that an idea may be harmful, may cause harm, is not a sufficient basis to censor."

Brooks argued that Tingley should be able to have conversations with patients that are directed around gender identity or sexual orientation. He said his client only works with minors if they or their parent(s) want to work with him.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has twice rejected similar challenges on conversion therapy. It has yet to rule in this case.

Correction 05/26/2022: an earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of attorney Cristina Sepe.

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