Lawrence City Commission approves ordinance banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors

photo by: City of Lawrence

Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia, far right, discusses Ordinance 9828 with members of the City Commission.

City leaders have adopted an ordinance that bans so-called conversion therapy that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, calling the practice harmful to children.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to adopt Ordinance 9828, which specifically prohibits licensed providers from practicing conversion therapy on minors. Vice Mayor Courtney Shipley, who originally proposed the ban, referred to research that shows the therapy is detrimental to mental health and increases suicide risk.

“The very most basic thing that we have to do is to protect each other and to protect children, and I feel that this does that,” Shipley said.

Other commissioners agreed with Shipley, and Commissioner Lisa Larsen said that she does believe it provides an element of protection that wasn’t there before.

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 a previous memo to the commission. Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia previously told the commission that 20 states and numerous municipalities, including Roeland Park in the Kansas City area, have banned the practice of conversion therapy. Garcia noted that various professional organizations, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, have said conversion therapy is unfounded and detrimental to those who undergo it.

A few people attended the meeting to speak in favor of the ordinance. Lawrence resident and attorney David Brown commended the city for pursuing the ordinance.

“I think the documentation that has been provided about the fact that conversion therapy is indeed torture and is clearly wrong and not accepted by any qualified medical professional is ample justification for the commission to pass this ordinance,” Brown said.

Lawrence resident Inoru Wade, a Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs & Administration and co-chair of the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, told the commission that conversion therapy is abusive. Referencing the recent deferral of the commission’s vote, he said that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. He said the ordinance would contribute to suicide prevention efforts, and he urged the commission to pass it.

The commission also heard from Michael Airhart, a representative of Born Perfect, a national campaign of survivors of conversion therapy that advocates ending the practice. Airhart said that conversion therapy does not do what it claims and can be “relentless months or years of self-directed shame.”

Though the ordinance does not apply to nonlicensed religious counselors, one pastor still voiced opposition. Barry Foster, who is the senior pastor at First Christian Church in downtown Lawrence, said in a letter to the commission that the ordinance violated religious and other freedoms.

The commission had previously deferred the vote on April 6 after disagreement regarding whether the ordinance should include a specific exception for religious counselors. The version of the ordinance approved Tuesday removed the exception, but Garcia clarified that even without the stated exception, the ban still does not apply to the many clergy or religious figures who provide counsel without a license, because it specifically affects licensed providers.


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