Bloomington is among the latest Minnesota cities taking steps to outlaw conversion therapy for minors and vulnerable adults, a ban that would affect at least two providers employing the discredited practice within city limits.
OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ advocacy group, found that unlike Minneapolis, St. Paul, West St. Paul, Duluth, Robbinsdale, Red Wing, Winona and Rochester — which have approved conversion therapy bans in recent years — Bloomington has two licensed providers offering conversion therapy to minors. The practice aims to change an individual's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
In St. Louis Park, where the council is considering a resolution denouncing conversion therapy — similar to a measure Golden Valley passed last March — there is at least one provider that offers therapy for "unwanted same-sex attraction," according to the website of Agape Christian Counselors. Messages left with founder and counselor David Hovis were not returned.
The two providers in Bloomington did not respond to requests for comment.
Because of the existing practices in St. Louis Park and Bloomington, OutFront Policy and Organizing Director James Darville said measures there will have more teeth.
"It feels very urgent," he said, "because there are folks who are currently in those cities who are going through it right now as we speak and are going through this practice that we know increases the rate of suicide in LGBTQ-plus youth and causes so much mental harm. … It would be just an incredibly powerful statement for these cities because it just shows their willingness to protect folks."
At a recent Bloomington City Council meeting where the draft ordinance was discussed, the council recognized more than 25 letters sent in opposition to the ban, with most citing government overreach and religious beliefs. The city received more than 40 letters supporting the ban, including from state lawmakers Rep. Andrew Carlson, Rep. Steve Elkins and Sen. Melissa Halvorson Wiklund — all DFLers representing Bloomington — and Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, as well as several local pastors, medical professionals and organizations.
Critics of the ban say the city is not hearing alternative viewpoints on conversion therapy. But Council Member Jenna Carter said that's difficult to do when there aren't credible sources or empirical evidence suggesting conversion therapy is effective. Every major medical organization, including the World Health Organization and United Nations Human Rights Council, has condemned it as a discredited, harmful practice.
"This is a super emotionally charged topic in our community," Carter said. "But as a parent with young kids, with friends who have children who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming, I know that this is an important topic in our community. When I've talked with other parents they are shocked that it's still allowed."
Bloomington's ordinance would ban licensed providers — not clergy or religious leaders — from practicing conversion therapy on minors and vulnerable adults. It would also incorporate a reporting mechanism, though enforcement details haven't been decided.
Council members discussed at length whether an ordinance violation should result in a civil or criminal citation. The city's Human Rights Commission recommended a civil penalty because it would help victims avoid criminal and legal processes that can increase trauma and result in fewer reports.
The city anticipates holding a public hearing on the proposed ban in April.
OutFront said that while local ordinances are important, there are obvious loopholes — a practitioner can move outside city limits and continue offering conversion therapy — that underscore the need to pass a statewide ban. What's more, because the practice is still lawful in Minnesota, there is no statewide reporting mechanism that could shed light on the scope and frequency of the practice.
Utah and Virginia last year prohibited conversion therapy for minors, bringing the total number of states banning the practice to 20, but attempts in Minnesota have so far been unsuccessful.
Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, introduced in January an omnibus bill with four provisions protecting LGBTQ people, including a conversion therapy ban.
"It's obviously something that is important to Minnesotans and the LGBTQ community to the point where local cities are banning it," she said. "It's not something that Minnesota should allow."
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751