ANNAPOLIS — In a dramatic speech on the floor of the House of Delegates Wednesday, a Republican state delegate said her father, a sitting Republican senator, discussed conversion therapy for her after she revealed she was bisexual.
Del. Meagan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, told her personal story as she punctuated her concerns about a process sometimes called conversion therapy.
“Mr. Speaker, I urge the body to vote in favor of this bill because I never want a child to go through the situation that this girl did,” Simonaire told the members of the House as she ended her nearly four-minute speech in which she told the story of a girl whose parents wanted their daughter to go to conversion therapy. “If this bill keeps even one child from that, it will be worth sharing my story with you today.”
The bill prohibits licensed mental health professionals from offering therapy that is intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Simonaire, 27 and a first-term Republican, said she wanted to put a name to the 20,000 children she said go through the therapy. She spoke respectfully of her parents as she told the story of how she told them of a relationship that she had with a woman — a relationship she ultimately broke off for fear of her family’s reaction.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk about these so-called horrible parents who force their children to receive this ineffective treatment,” Simonaire said. “But I also want this body to consider that there are actually well-intended, loving, caring parents who truly want the best for their child who also routinely fall into the trap of believing conversion therapy is real and effective when it clearly is not and it never will be. These well-intended parents are afraid that their child will live a harder live if they are LGBT, or they are so worried that God will not bless them if their sexual orientation differs in any way from the mainstream. These good parents believe they are doing everything in their power to help the child that they love so dearly and deeply.”
Speaking of herself, she described an idyllic childhood as “a girl who grew up in the best family she could imagine. She had the most loving parents. Siblings who became her best friends and childhood memories so beautiful to last a lifetime. When she was teenager she was attracted to boys like many other of her friends but she also found herself attracted to other girls. She fell in love with a girl and kept it from her family out of fear of losing them. ”
Growing up, Simonaire said, she developed an interest in boys as many of her female friends did but also found that she was attracted to girls.
Simonaire said her “worst fears came true” when she told her parents.
“Her worse fears came true. Her parents were heartbroken and disgusted by her devious actions. They weren’t ever hateful by any means. But they were fully convinced that she was living in sin and desperately wanted to get her the help that she needed. Conversion therapy was their answer to help their precious baby girl. ”
She said her family researched the best conversion therapy providers and encouraged her to seek counseling. She ultimately did not go but said she was left with deep emotional scars and self-loathing and depression.
“If you hear anything I say today, hear this,” Simonaire said. “What is not broken cannot be fixed. I repeat: What is not broken cannot be fixed.”
Simonaire left the House with security and did not take questions, telling reporters she would speak later.
Following her speech, a number of openly gay lawmakers from the House and Senate drifted back to her seat in the back of the chamber to hug her and offer reassurance.
“I’ve been here eight years, and I know that’s the most amazing moment that I’ve had on the floor of the House,” said Del. Bonnie L. Cullison, D-Montgomery and an openly gay member of the legislature.
“She spoke extremely powerfully before her story, talking about giving voice to the young people who are being subjected to this conversion therapy but when she told her very personal story, it was extremely powerful and inspirational,” said Cullison.
Simonaire’s vote comes a week after her dad, Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, led a an effort to defeat the same bill in the Senate, calling it overly broad and an attempt to legislate a political viewpoint.
The senator, in comments following his daughter’s speech, said he was unaware of her remarks before seeing press reports. He said none of the discussions with his daughter occurred when she was under 18.
“Meagan had her first conversation with me on this topic when she was a 26-year-old adult living on her own,” Bryan Simonaire told The Daily Record following his daughter’s vote. “Neither her mother or I ever suggested she had to do anything as a minor, or any other child. We have always interacted with our children in a manner to work with them and their individual personality.”
“I don’t recall the specifics of an adult-to-adult family conversation, but I think they were seeking options if she wanted to talk to a counselor,” he said. “It was like any other advice-seeking conversation from a grown adult child, it was simply my information for them to consider. She considered it and did not go to a counselor.”
The senator did not criticize his daughter for her comments or her vote.
“I have always taught my children to be free thinkers, and she is an adult and thinks about every vote, which I respect,” Bryan Simonaire said.
(The headline on an earlier version of this story inaccurately characterized Del. Meagan Simonaire’s vote. She voted in favor of a measure to prohibit licensed therapists from offering gay conversion therapy.)