RACINE — A proposed city ordinance that would effectively outlaw conversion therapy for minors is headed to the City Council after it was unanimously approved by the Finance and Personnel Committee Monday.
“Conversion therapy is anything but therapy,” 9th District Alderman Trevor Jung, one of the proposal’s sponsors, said Monday. “We need to make sure that folks who are exposed to this know that it is not appropriate in this community and that it is unlawful.”
If approved by the council, Racine would become the fifth Wisconsin city to issue a ban, joining Cudahy, Eau Claire, Madison and Milwaukee. A statewide bill that would outlaw the practice was brought forward in March.
“This is about saving lives and that is not a partisan issue,” one of the statewide ban’s authors, state Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, told WDJT-TV in March.
If passed, Wisconsin would become the 19th state to ban conversion therapy, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
Racine’s proposed ban
Conversion therapy refers to the practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation, often through psychological and spiritual means. It is primarily targeted at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in an attempt to make them heterosexual or cisgender, a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.
According to the proposal, which cites research from 12 different medical, counseling, health and psychology organizations, conversion therapy has been found to be largely ineffective and also “creates a potential risk of serious harm to those who experience it.”
According to the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, conversion therapy has been linked to patients developing symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, and substance abuse.
“This is not therapy. It is abuse,” 13th District Alderman Natalia Taft said before asking to become of the proposal’s co-sponsors.
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Racine’s proposed ordinance would only outlaw conversion therapy for those under 18 years of age, since LGBT youth are sometimes forced to go to conversion therapy by adults. If an adult chooses to enter conversion therapy (also referred to as reparative therapy), they would still be able to do so.
“What we’re trying to do through this ban is protect those young people from somebody who is trying to misguide them, to make them into somebody who they aren’t,” said Barbara Farrar, the executive director of the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin.
A draft of the ordinance was brought forward by the LGBT Center in June, and is now being sponsored by aldermen Taft, Jung, Mary Land of the 11th District and Tracey Larrin of the 4th District, as well as Mayor Cory Mason.
If approved by the City Council, the ban would allow for fines of up to $1,000 of anyone who attempts to conduct conversion therapy for every day they are found to have been in violation of the ordinance.
“This is extremely important. Efforts like this are happening all across the country,” Farrar said. “At the center, we see the victims who have been mistreated, either through their communities or through therapists. It’s not easy to be in the LGBT community.”
One of the reasons the LGBT Center advocated for a ban that carries a potentially hefty fine is because many conversion therapists are unlicensed, according to LGBT Center Board President Carl Hubbard. Hubbard also sits on the city’s Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission, where the proposed ordinance was first discussed.
The intent of issuing this specific ban would be to send a message that conversion therapy “is not appropriate,” as Jung put it, and also to allow for fines to act as a deterrent to the practice.
“What we’re trying to do through this ban (of conversion therapy) is protect those young people from somebody who is trying to misguide them, to make them into somebody who they aren’t.” Barbara Farrar, executive director of the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin