Following 90 minutes of passionate public commentary, the Bloomington City Council on Monday evening passed a ban on conversion therapy for minors and vulnerable adults.
Bloomington is the ninth city in Minnesota to ban the widely discredited practice, which seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity.
The 6-1 vote marked the culmination of nearly a year of research, led by the city's Human Rights Commission, that resulted in a recommendation for the council to pass a ban. Residents have been speaking out — both against and in favor of the ban — since January, and the council discussed a draft ordinance in March.
"Our research really showed that it's important for cities and states to take action to protect LGBTQIA youth and vulnerable adults from the harms caused by conversion therapy," said Human Rights Commissioner Anita Smithson. "We approached this knowing that we had the potential to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ people in our community."
Smithson said the evidence overwhelmingly shows that conversion therapy is harmful. The commission's recommendation was based on scientific findings from the medical community, she said, as well as the testimony of LGBTQ community members who shared their own negative experiences with conversion therapy.
The ordinance does not prohibit clergy or religious officials from practicing conversion therapy.
Only one council member, Jack Baloga, voted against the ordinance.
Baloga and Council Member Dwayne Lowman voted against setting a maximum civil penalty of $2,000 for violating the ordinance. Lowman said he could not support the measure because he found the penalty too low.
"For me, from a moral standpoint, it's about the abuse, and the torture that these folks are experiencing," Lowman said.
The council ultimately settled on a lower penalty: First violations will result in a $500 fine, and subsequent violations will result in a $1,000 fine. Upon reports of violations to the city, the city attorney may issue a warning letter to the provider and ultimately report the violation to the appropriate licensing board.
Mayor Tim Busse said when getting feedback from residents about the ordinance, the most common response he got was shock that conversion therapy still exists and is practiced in Bloomington.
About a dozen callers during the virtual meeting Monday spoke in opposition to the ban and about 18, including a handful who identified as LGBTQ, spoke in favor.
OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ advocacy group, found that Bloomington has two licensed providers offering conversion therapy to minors.
Advocates say that gives the ordinance more teeth; in other cities where similar measures have passed recently — including Minneapolis, St. Paul, West St. Paul, Duluth, Robbinsdale, Red Wing, Winona and Rochester — there is no evidence that providers are practicing conversion therapy.
Golden Valley and St. Louis Park have passed resolutions denouncing conversion therapy, but those actions don't outlaw the practice. There is at least one provider in St. Louis Park, Agape Christian Counselors, that offers therapy for "unwanted same-sex attraction," according to its website.
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751