This week Appleton’s Board of Health was asked to consider placing a ban on conversion therapy for minors.
Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to convert someone who is gay or lesbian to becoming straight through the use of psychological intervention.
“There’s no evidence that you can change somebody from being gay or lesbian or trans to not being those things,” says Lawrence University gender studies professor Helen Boyd.
The American Psychiatric Association says conversion therapy has caused suicide, depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior for gay, lesbian or transgender youth that have undergone the therapy.
“Organization after organization has reached out and said no, this is a harmful practice and it does not get the results that people are looking for,” says Brad Firkus, an Appleton alderman that co-submitted the Youth Mental Health Protection resolution.
Whether conversion therapy is widespread in the state or not, there is reason to make sure therapy for gay youth is to help them, not to convert them.
“In Wisconsin we have four times the rate of suicide risk for LGBTQ youth and we should be paying attention to that,” says Boyd. “Our national average is terrifying. Compared to the national average our numbers are really bad.”
Appleton’s resolution only involves licensed therapists, any other entity would still be free to practice whatever form of therapy or counseling they choose.
“This is a mental health practitioner ban, it does not affect the rights of parents or clergy,” says Boyd. “In fact, plenty of parents and clergy who don’t believe in LGBTQ people will still be practicing this stuff.”
The common council heard from community members earlier this week.
“This is a form of child abuse, children shouldn’t be forced to do something they don’t want to,” says LGBTQ advocate Nate Wolff. “We need to start protecting our children.”
The final decision will be left to the common council in mid-January. but it seems like the choice to ban conversion therapy won’t be difficult one.
“We may not have that issue here or at least we don’t think we have that issue here,” says Firkus. “But I think it does send a message of what our community standards are: we don’t support that kind of practice happening here.”
Cities like Milwaukee and Madison have already passed bans on conversion therapy.
Firkus says licensed individuals who violate the resolution’s ordinance face a $1,000 fine per day the therapy is practiced.