City could ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors

photo by: Chris Conde

Lawrence City Hall is pictured in September 2018.

City leaders will soon consider adopting an ordinance that would ban so-called conversion therapy that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting Ordinance 9828, which would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy for minors. The idea for such an ordinance was initially discussed last year, and several commissioners indicated at that time they were interested in such a proposal.

Vice Mayor Courtney Shipley, who initially brought up the idea, said that she did so after a member of the public told her that the city of Roeland Park in Johnson County had passed such an ordinance and wanted to know if Lawrence could do the same. Shipley said once she realized it was something the city could do, she thought it was important to bring forward.

“It’s the least we could do, but I think it’s important,” Shipley said. “And I hope at the very least it sends a message that our community wants to protect vulnerable children.”

A city staff memo to the commission states that conversion therapy is generally defined as any practice, counseling, or purported treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. That includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.

Efforts to pass a state law specifically banning conversion therapy occurred in the Kansas Legislature in 2017, 2019 and 2020, but those draft bills were unsuccessful and did not make it out of committee, according to the memo. The memo states that Roeland Park is among a number of states and municipalities in the U.S. that have banned the practice of conversion therapy. The Roeland Park ordinance, similar to other municipalities and state laws around the country, bans the practice for minors specifically.

Shipley brought up the idea of banning conversion therapy in December 2020, after which city staff researched legal aspects of taking such action. Shipley noted that initial conversation was before Kansas lawmakers began discussing legislation regarding banning some transgender athletes, however she said at a minimum the ordinance could send a different message to young people. As the Associated Press has reported, conservative Republicans advanced a proposal to ban transgender students from girls’ and women’s school sports, a measure that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly labeled “regressive.”

The proposed ordinance states in part that being LGBTQ is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming, and that practices sought to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are an ineffective and potentially dangerous practice that can cause significant mental and physical harm. The ordinance goes on to say that the governing body of the City of Lawrence acknowledges that a vast amount of literature by professionals in health, mental health, and counseling exists that has determined there is no scientifically valid evidence that supports the practice of conversion therapy, and that such practice may have a significantly negative impact on an individual’s well-being.

For the stated purpose of protecting the physical and psychological well being of all such minors, the ordinance makes it unlawful for any person or entity to provide conversion therapy to a minor. Any provider who violates the ordinance will be subject to a fine not to exceed $500, with each conversion therapy session with a minor constituting a separate offense.

The City Commission will convene virtually for its regular meeting at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

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