The General Assembly made national headlines earlier this month when lawmakers voted to make Maryland the 11th state to ban “conversion therapy” for LGBT youth.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has indicated he will sign the bill, which passed both chambers in the session’s closing days. It was one lawmaker’s disclosure that made news coverage especially compelling.
Del. Meagan C. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel), the legislature’s youngest member, rose during the floor debate and declared, “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.”
Those tracking the debate on the bill immediately recognized that Simonaire intended to vote for a bill that her father — Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) — was actively working to defeat across the hall.
Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire and Del. Megan C. Simonaire/Facebook
As she continued to speak to a rapt House chamber, however, it became clear that this father-daughter disagreement went beyond the ordinary.
The younger Simonaire, 27, disclosed that when she came to the realization that she is bisexual, her parents were “disgusted” and found a provider who specialized in conversion therapy.
Having her “good-intentioned parents” believe that therapy could “fix” her was “enough to cause significant pain, self-loathing and deep depression,” Simonaire told her colleagues.
“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.”
Many of Meagan Simonaire’s colleagues rose and applauded, some with tears in their eyes. The bill passed 95-27, and she received hugs when the session was gaveled to a close.
Sen. Simonaire now says much of the media coverage of his daughter’s floor remarks was not factual.
“The press got it wrong in a lot of cases,” he told Maryland Matters. “I’m seeing reports that we sent her to conversion therapy when she was a child. This was a simple family conversation when she was 25 or 26 years old. She was an adult child talking to her parents. It was one simple conversation.”
The Simonaires have seven children, and “all my kids come to us for advice,” he said. “She was dealing with depression and anxiety after she had revealed that she was bisexual. So she was asking for advice. We gave her some advice for Christian counseling. She decided not to go to it. She never attended. And that was the end of the conversation.”
Reports on the legislature’s action — and the drama involving the father-daughter lawmakers — was picked up by The New York Times, NBC News, Teen Vogue and other national outlets.
Sen. Simonaire, who offered amendments and spoke against the bill during floor debate, said of all the attention: “I really think it’s much to do about nothing and it’s getting misrepresented in the press.”
He also had a message for people who expressed outrage that Meagan Simonaire had been steered toward conversion therapy by her parents.
“These so-called tolerant people — they just spew hateful comments and they don’t really have all the facts.”
One Republican lawmaker said many of her GOP colleagues felt the younger Simonaire did her parents a disservice.
“No matter what you think about this, you don’t air family laundry in public,” she said. “That should be kept private.”
Sen. Simonaire wasn’t the only person to express disappointment in the media’s coverage of the issue.
Mark Eckstein Bernardo, a parent activist in Montgomery County who works with the group PFLAG, said conversion therapy bans aren’t just to protect “gay teens.” It “applies to all minors, not just teens, and to sexual orientation and gender identity, not just ‘gay,’ he said in an email. “This is important because many situations involve transgender, gender nonconforming and gender expansive elementary school kids—[who are] neither gay nor teens.”