A bill that would prohibit charging or advertising for conversion therapy drew much attention even before its hearing Thursday evening in front of the Nebraska Legislature's Judiciary Committee.
Senators received hundreds of emails. And there were back-and-forth comments between supporters and opponents on social media starting days before the hearing.
But Nebraskans and others still had a lot to say about the bill (LB167) at the Capitol, with stories on personal experiences with the therapy and professional opinions on its worth. The testimony went for more than three hours.
Earlier in the day, the bill's introducer, Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, had announced she would ask to withdraw a companion bill that would make subjecting a child to conversion therapy, interventions meant to alter a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, a form of child abuse.
"This practice is grounded in the incorrect and debunked belief that being LGBTQ is an undesirable affliction to be corrected," Hunt said.
Medical and counseling professionals followed to testify that the therapy is ineffective and harmful.
"Conversion, or reparative, therapies rely on the false premise that homosexuality or gender diverse identities are pathological," said child and adolescent psychiatrist Joan Daughton of Children's Hospital in Omaha. "Variations in sexual orientation and gender expression are normal components of human development and are not pathological."
Adam Witte of Omaha testified he is a survivor of conversion therapy in Nebraska. He sought the treatment in 1998 when he was 16 and terrified of disappointing or angering his parents and his church community by coming out as gay.
He had electroshock aversion therapy for 15 months, with shocks increasing in intensity. He chose to stop the therapy when the shock became so strong he was knocked unconscious and bit off a chunk of his tongue and bled profusely, he said.
"It had reached a level where I worried for my safety, yet I didn't feel any less same-sex attraction," he said.
Many opponents followed with testimony that children, parents and counselors should have the right to decide what is best for a child's mental health. They recounted stories of people worried or confused about their sexual orientation and gender identity who sought and received caring therapy and who were able, as a result, to live fulfilled heterosexual lives.
Gordon Opp of Lincoln said he sought counseling for unwanted sexual desires and had no regrets about his decision to work through his conflicting sexual orientation.
Glenn Smith, the executive director of Camp Witness Bible Conference Association in Long Pine, said the bill puts his organization at risk.
The definition of conversion therapy in the bill is too loosely defined, he said, and doesn't allow a counselor to present an opposing opinion or to guide a child in a different direction.
"I believe that LB167 could be interpreted to prohibit us from teaching what we believe is the biblical view of human sexuality" to kids who pay to come to his camp, Smith said.
The hearing ended at 9:16 p.m. with Hunt telling those in the LGBTQ community: "It is brave, and it is courageous and it is revolutionary to be yourself in a world that contains a chorus of people that tells you that you should not exist.'