By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Conversion therapy is widely discredited by medical experts.

Now, a new Minnesota order protects minors from going through the therapy meant to convert a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

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“Bring your authentic self. You’ll be seen, heard, valued and loved in this state, and we want you to be whoever you are,” Gov. Tim Walz said.

Officials and advocates describe the order as a first step. The Minnesota State Legislature would need to pass a law to have an official ban.

One of those speaking out at Thursday’s signing at the capitol was a 25-year-old Minnesota man who underwent conversion therapy nine years ago.

Afterward, Junior Avalos sat down with Esme Murphy to explain the physical and emotional abuse he suffered.

Growing up in Houston, Junior Avalos heard the same thing again and again.

“There was something wrong with me for being attracted to someone of the same sex,” he said.

When he was 16 his father found out he had a boyfriend.

“We got into a physical altercation, the cops were called on me and that’s when the cop was like, ‘Hey, you should fix yourself,'” he said. “And that was when it clicked, I was like, there is something wrong with me.”

It was then that he got a job to raise $600 to pay for a three-week conversion camp. He told no one — not even his parents.

“It was a little mix of pray the gay away, a little bit of like, we’re gonna toughen you up, boot camp style,” Avalos said.

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There was verbal and physical abuse.

“While we are jogging they are screaming at us bible verses, they are screaming at us all these slurs,” Avalos said. “At some point we had these practices of trying to act like a man, how to walk like a man and if you did anything like have a limp wrist you’d get beat up.”

The conversion therapy did not work.

“I am going through all of this, but I am not changing,” he said.

Devastated, he went next to a long scheduled Philadelphia dance camp. It was in a gay neighborhood.

“I get to see all these people being so authentic with themselves and being open, holding hands, kissing, being happy, and I’m like, I think this is possible,” Avalos said.

At 18 he moved to Minnesota where he heard there was a supportive gay community. He now works as a manager at a nonprofit.

“I am super happy, I am living my most authentic self,” he said.

He has a message to share.

“You’re beautiful,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with you, there is nothing broken with you and that you’re not alone.”

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Avalos says some of his conversion camp friends have since died by suicide. He says his own parents are slowly becoming more supportive.

Esme Murphy