The Republican who is seeking to unseat Virginia state Del. Karrie Delaney (D-Fairfax County), challenged her on social media for supporting a law that bans so-called conversion therapy for minors and efforts to protect transgender students from bullying and harassment.
Bob Frizzelle tweeted on Sept. 28 a video stating Virginia’s “new progressive laws” limit parents’ right to know if their child “changes their gender in school” or their right to take their child to “gender counseling.”
On Instagram and Facebook, Frizzelle criticized what he later told the Washington Blade was “overreach” by the state, and called out Delaney for supporting legislation that he felt stood between parents and their duty to ensure their children’s wellbeing.
“You have a minor child under the care and guidance of their parents until they reach 18 and the state steps in and decides what is allowed and not allowed in terms of gender counseling,” Frizzelle said.
“It seems conversion therapy is an exercise in cruelty and torture, and I’m not advocating that either, I wouldn’t want that,” he said. “But this is about counseling and parents being the main authority over what is best for their child instead of the state.”
The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and a host of therapeutic professional organizations oppose the use conversion therapy, stating it is ineffective, harmful and not evidence-based.
Currently, 20 states and numerous localities, including D.C., ban the use of this discredited practice.
Delaney voted for House Bill 386, sponsored by state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County), and helped make Virginia the first Southern state to ban conversion therapy for minors.
“For the record, I’m proud to have taken that vote,” Delaney told the Blade. “It’s a debunked, unethical practice that is proven to harm children.”
“In my view, it’s akin to fraud,” added Sasha Buchert, senior attorney for Lambda Legal’s D.C. office. “They’re attempting to implement a practice that has been shown not to provide effective treatment and is grounded not in science and medicine but in ideology.”
But, contrary to Frizzelle’s claim, parents can still take their children to LGBTQ counseling.
Both Delaney and Buchert emphasized the conversion therapy ban does not prevent parents from taking their children to a licensed therapist if they are struggling with understanding their gender identity or sexual orientation. They agreed that therapy must be evidence-based and proven, not abusive, or according to Buchert, “torture.”
According to a lawsuit filed in New Jersey in 2015 in which victims successfully shut down a religious organization practicing conversion therapy despite the state’s ban, “therapy” sessions involved “humiliating” acts, including reliving past abuse and enduring homophobic slurs as part of “talk therapy.”
“Remember, we’re talking about children,” Delaney said. “Hearing from some of those survivors, it’s pretty horrific.”
Last year, Delaney was one of four Democrats who killed House Bill 966, sponsored by state Del. Wendell Walker (R-Lynchburg), that would have allowed conversion therapy for minors if counseling involved “nothing more than ‘talk therapy.’”
“Anyone with any experience in this field knows it doesn’t have to be a physical type of therapy to do harm,” Delaney said. “‘Talk’ is a powerful tool. We license professions if there is harm that can be done. That applies to therapists in Virginia.”
Frizzelle also challenged Delaney’s support for the Virginia Department of Education model policies for protecting trans students from bullying and harassment in school.
He said the policies enable schools to change a student’s information in their records, such as their pronouns, without notifying parents.
“I haven’t read the trans statute,” Frizzelle admitted candidly. “But I think the school may tell the parents only if it wants to. The school then gets to decide to tell parents, if it wants to, if there is a significant event regarding their child. Should the school have this discretion?”
However, nothing in the governing statute passed last year prevents parents from receiving information about their child, according to Delaney, who was one of the House bill’s numerous sponsors.
“This bill does not take away any parental rights,” Delaney said. “Parents are not barred from having access to information about their students. There’s nothing in this law that says parents cannot be informed about their student.”
Delaney pointed out the purpose of the statute is to direct the state Department of Education and local school boards to develop policies that, according to its text, “address common issues regarding transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices.”
The text also states school policies are to protect trans students in “compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws.”
“The purpose of these policies is to maintain a safe and supportive learning environment that is free from harassment so these kids can learn,” Delaney said.
Buchert added that LGBTQ youth reported “in study after study” high rates of harassment, bullying and discrimination from other students, teachers and administrators, particularly if they also were students of color.
“It leads you to missing school, it makes you not want to come to your gym class, it makes you fearful and leaves you pushed out into the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.
Buchert also looked at the student privacy aspect of the law as necessary to protect LGBTQ students until they are ready to come out to their friends and family.
She said part of protecting students is giving them a safe space to learn more about themselves and who they are in the world, instead of forcing them out of the closet before they are ready.
“Your family may not be prepared or well-suited to help you navigate those unique struggles,” Buchert said, pointing out that while some parents are understanding and supportive, others might push the child out of the home to fend for themselves.
“And that’s why the LGBTQ youth homeless rate is so high,” Buchert said. “Forcibly outing them before they or their families are ready can be extremely harmful. The things Frizzelle is supporting would cause serious harm to LGBTQ youth and their families.”
Both Virginia’s conversion therapy ban and trans student protections passed with bipartisan support, and Delaney said they were examples of legislators doing their job to protect vulnerable children in the commonwealth.
But Frizzelle was still uncomfortable with how he perceived rights were balanced in these bills.
“I think this is such a thorny issue because you want to treat everyone with respect,” Frizzelle told the Blade. “And the reason I made the video and I have the objection is I’m uncomfortable with parents being separated from their children’s care by the state like this. I think that is not the proper function of the state.”
Delaney pointed it this in fact is the proper role of the state: To protect children whom studies have shown to be vulnerable targets of harassment, discrimination and abuse.
“What we’re trying to do as a legislature is protect these children,” Delaney said. “And Frizzelle is dividing parents over a problem that is manufactured and not based in fact, and that is very sad.”
Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck agreed that the government has the authority and the duty to protect vulnerable people from harm. They also stated the government has the additional responsibility of ensuring everyone can benefit equally from public goods, such as receiving an education free from harassment.
“The government has the authority—and is supposed to use it—to protect vulnerable people from harm,” Lamneck said. “Laws that ensure transgender students can benefit from public education, and that LGBTQ young people are not subjected to practices that are known to cause lasting psychological damage, fall squarely within that authority and obligation.”
“No one, including parents, should be permitted to endanger the health and wellbeing of children in the ways prohibited by those laws,” added Lamneck.