By Bruce DePuyt
The existence of a father-daughter legislative duo in the halls of the Maryland legislature was a quaint novelty until about 2 p.m. Wednesday.
All that changed when — in an extraordinary moment of personal disclosure on the floor of the House of Delegates — Meagan C. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) shared a painful story about how her parents wanted her to undergo conversion therapy to deal with same-sex attraction.
Her father, Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel), has been a leading opponent of the proposal to ban conversion therapy for minors.
Del. Simonaire, 27, is a first-term lawmaker who opted not to seek a second term in Annapolis. The youngest member of the General Assembly, she speaks infrequently on legislation.
But when she rose to speak on Senate Bill 1028, she clearly had something she wanted to share.
“I rise today to be the voice for children who are currently subjected to conversion therapy — a therapy that licensed medical professionals have for years debunked as ineffective, inappropriate and flat-out dangerous,” she began.
She described conversion therapy as “a practice that minors have taken their own lives after being subjected to it.”
She noted that “well-intended, loving, caring parents who truly want the best of their child … routinely fall into the trap of believing conversion therapy is real and effective.”
She then talked about “a girl” who, as a teenager, was “attracted to boys” but also “found herself attracted to other girls.”
After falling in love with another girl, the teen kept it from her family, “out of fear of losing them.”
When they found out, “her worst fears came true.”
The girl’s parents, “disgusted” by their daughter’s actions, found a provider who specialized in conversion therapy. The girl never went, for reasons that weren’t disclosed.
But having her “good-intentioned parents” believe that therapy could “fix” her was “enough to cause significant pain, self-loathing and deep depression,” Del. Simonaire said.
“I never want another child to go through the situation this girl did,” she concluded. “If this bill keeps even one child from that, it will be worth sharing my story today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”
The chamber gave Del. Simonaire a sustained round of applause, and the measure passed 95-27. The bill cleared the Senate last month, 34-12. Bryan Simonaire was among the dozen “no” votes.
Despite the GOP opposition in the General Assembly, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) has indicated he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk, making Maryland the 11th state, plus Washington, D.C., to ban conversion therapy for minors.
A reporter visited Sen. Simonaire’s office shortly after the House adjourned on Wednesday but he was gone for the day, an aide said. A request for comment was not immediately returned.
After session, lawmakers embraced Del. Simonaire and thanked her for telling her story, some moved to tears.
“I thought she was amazingly brave and courageous. She spoke extremely powerfully,” said Del. Bonnie L. Cullison (D-Montgomery), one of several openly gay lawmakers in Annapolis and sponsor of the House version of the bill. “I’ve been here eight years. That’s the most amazing moment I’ve had on the floor of the House.”
The Senate bill was sponsored by Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery County), an openly gay senator and gubernatorial candidate.
“I want to acknowledge the bravery exhibited by my General Assembly colleague …,” Madaleno wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. “She demonstrated great personal strength today. With the power of her convictions, she has saved other young people from similar painful experiences.”