Conversion therapy could soon be off limits for health care professionals treating minors in Minneapolis, a move that advocates for LGBT youth hope will pressure Minnesota lawmakers to pass a statewide ban.
The Minneapolis City Council and the mayor are expected to approve changes later this week that would ban the controversial practice, which seeks to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.
The change "is about setting a standard, an expectation," said Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who is helping to spearhead the effort and who said he was exposed to conversion therapy as a teenager and considers it "abuse."
"We need to get the momentum moving so that it is inevitable that it will pass at the state," Cunningham said during a hearing Monday afternoon.
It's unclear how many health care professionals offer conversion therapy within the city of Minneapolis, where the ban would apply. The city doesn't have statistics on that, according to spokesman Casper Hill.
There aren't any references to conversion, or reparative therapy, in the state rules pertaining to family or marriage therapists.
Activists say they, too, have trouble quantifying how frequently it occurs, in part because health care professionals often administer it while treating more broadly for depression or other conditions. Advocacy group OutFront Minnesota has been able to identify a few people who offer conversion therapy within the city, according to policy and organizing director Cat Salonek.
The practice, which can involve extreme techniques such as food deprivation or electric shock, has been denounced by several major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association.
Several people shared emotional stories about conversion therapy with City Council members at a packed hearing Monday afternoon.
Jack Richter told the story of two friends who killed themselves.
"The hard thing about the ex-gay movement is it leaves you with daily negative thoughts, and you still have to struggle with the years and years of indoctrination and propaganda that has been brought on you," Richter said.
While most people testified in favor of a ban, Michael Newland, of Minneapolis, said he sought "life-changing" care as a teenager and now identifies as a heterosexual man.
"How could I not want others to have access to the same or similar care to which I have access?" he asked.
If approved, the measures before the City Council would change three city ordinances to ban medical professionals from providing conversion therapy to minors. People who suspect violations would be able to file complaints with the city's Civil Rights Department, which would then investigate and, if appropriate, issue a warning letter or a fine of up to $1,000 per day.
The rules would not apply to clergy members who provide religious counseling, as opposed to mental health treatment.
The efforts are expected to win approval of the City Council on Friday, and some members are already encouraging other towns to adopt similar bans.
Some state lawmakers said they will continue to work for a ban that would apply throughout Minnesota, but that is expected to a tougher fight. A similar measure stalled earlier this year in the Republican-controlled Senate.
"I absolutely believe we will get this law passed eventually, but in the meantime, to take this step is important," said state Sen. Scott Dibble, a DFLer pushing the state effort, "and I am proud to be a resident of Minneapolis."
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994