City council asked to ban LGBT conversion therapy in Beloit

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BELOIT - A group of residents approached the Beloit City Council on Monday night asking the city take action in banning the practice of conversion therapy, but it's unclear what the next steps may be by the city.

Representatives of the Yellow Brick Road, School District of Beloit and residents spoke in support of the city banning conversion therapy.

According to an article published in U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, conversion therapies are any treatments which attempt to change an individual's sexual orientation. The 2017 report, titled "The Growing Regulation of Conversion Therapy" notes that conversion therapy practices "have been repudiated by major mental health organizations because of increasing evidence that they are ineffective and may cause harm to patients and their families who fail to change."

The American Counseling Association (ACA) opposes conversion therapy and the practice has been banned in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Main, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington DC.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBT advocacy group, conversion therapy also attempts to alter gender identity or expression of LGBT people. The HRC notes that minors are especially vulnerable from results of the practice and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.

Currently nine Wisconsin cities have adopted bans on conversion therapy practices, while the practice is not illegal under Wisconsin law.

Yellow Brick Road co-founder Marilyn Schuh said there are dangers with conversion therapy, and that there have been reports of potential conversion therapy practices occurring in Beloit.

"This is a life or death situation for us," Schuh said in urging the council to take action.

Beloit Memorial High School Gender Sexuality Advisor Amanda Sellen said Beloit's youth LGBT community is especially at risk from the impact of conversion therapy.

"Our students struggle with hurt and shame that comes with it," Sellen said. "Banning conversion therapy would show that the LGBT community are valued here and accepted."

Beloit School District Board of Education member Megan Miller said she would support the district listing conversion therapy as a mandatory reporting incident related to child abuse prevention standards.

The council took no action on the issue at Monday's meeting.

In a memo sent to council on Monday, Luther said most resolutions of the communities that ban conversion therapy have language that would recommend a referral to anyone found in violation be referred to the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services that regulates therapy and professional counseling.

Luther said because there's no state law banning the practice, it's "unclear the role DSPS would play in these situations."

Luther added the city "may not have legal authority" to enact a ban since the city is not a licensing entity, with limited ability to enforce such a ban. Outside of Wisconsin, there are multiple lawsuits over conversion therapy and associated bans that have had mixed verdicts.

"I want the message to be clear that our core value of being an inclusive community of people and ideas is truly important to us and that includes everyone in the LGBTQ+ community," Luther said. "Inclusivity is our core value and every individual who is present tonight is a valued part of our community at large."

Potential options for the council could include considering a resolution of the council supporting a change in state law; contacting members of the Wisconsin State Legislature to encourage policy changes; sharing information about the issue with the public; and requesting the city attorney's office research the issue and provide further information on the practice.

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