- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2019

A group that claims to have “changed” themselves from identifying as LGBTQ has traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby against two bills that would expand rights to gay and trans people.

The 15 members of Church United and Changed — which promotes the existence of people who formerly identified as LGBTQ — are in the halls of Congress lobbying against H.R. 5, the Equality Act, and H.R. 3570, also known as the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act

These two House bills, which passed in May, seek to update the civil rights code to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people and also classify so-called “conversion therapy,” which seeks to change someone’s sexual or gender identity, as fraudulent.

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The group — which calls themselves the “Formers” and includes two survivors of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub deadly shooting in Orlando, Florida — says these bills aren’t necessary, questioning the existence of LGBTQ discrimination at all.

“I live in Portland [Oregon], and I don’t see the discrimination that LGBTQ people talk about,” member Kathy Grace Duncan, who formerly identified as a transgender man, told NBC News. “They’re asking for certain rights in this legislation, but these are rights that they already have.”

Jim Domen, who founded the church, agreed, saying, “Sexual behavior should not be a protected right.”

“Changing the Civil Rights Act would create a superclass for anyone identifying as LGBTQ at the expense of people who are not,” Mr. Domen claimed. “The Equality Act treats sexual preference as an elevated class and would strip people of religious freedom.”

Mr. Domen said that unlike race discrimination, LGBTQ people haven’t been denied opportunities because of their sexual orientation and as such, don’t require them to have extra protections.

An LGBTQ researcher with Human Rights Watch disagreed with the “Formers,” calling the bills “long overdue” and blasted the group’s claims as relegated to their own personal experiences.

“No one should be refused service, denied care or otherwise discriminated against because of their gender or sexuality,” Ryan Thoreson said. “This legislation affirms people’s gender and sexual identities and provides clear protections for those who’ve been routinely discriminated against in health care and adoption services, education, housing, etc.”

“Maybe this group of people doesn’t feel it’s been discriminated against when they identified as LGBTQ+, but whether a particular group feels like it’s discriminated against isn’t an indication of whether discrimination exists for other people,” Mr. Thoreson added. “There’s a clear consensus from groups that work with LGBTQ+ people that this legislation will benefit them and help them live better lives.”

Ms. Duncan and Mr. Domen claim that being LGBTQ is a choice, and it can be “overcome” by participating in conversion therapy and religion, a practice that’s been denounced by major professional medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.

While the two do believe conversion therapy is harmful and should be banned, they believe it isn’t a pressing issue because they’ve “never met” anyone who’s gone through the process.

NBC News reported the two couldn’t “clearly explain” how conversion therapy is different from learning to “‘overcome one’s sexual orientation or gender identity through therapy or religious guidance,’ which they do support.”

“In discipleship programs like the ones I’ve participated in,” he added, “we’ve looked at the root issue — ‘Why are you living like that?’ — and we’ve provided community and accountability against temptation,” Ms. Duncan said.

The University of California, Los Angeles’ Williams Institute has reported that 700,000 LGBTQ youth have been subjugated to therapy intended to change their sexual and gender identity and, in a separate report, expect 80,000 more to go through the practice in the future.

The FBI also reported in June that LGBTQ hate crimes are on the rise, and the Humans Rights Campaign has reported that 22 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been fatally killed in attacks.

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