SUPERIOR, Wis. – Frustrated at statehouses around the country, LGBT advocates are increasingly looking to local governments to outlaw a practice they see as dehumanizing and dangerous.
Superior became the eighth Wisconsin city to ban gay conversion therapy when the City Council passed the measure unanimously on Tuesday.
“Conversion therapy is absolutely wrong. It’s not just an unethical practice; it’s child abuse, it’s torture of children,” Mayor Jim Paine told the Star Tribune on Thursday. “It has happened in Superior and it could happen in Superior again.”
No Minnesota cities have banned the practice — which seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation or identity — though several are considering bans in the wake of the Minnesota Legislature’s stalled effort to enact one this spring.
“We have been in discussions with several cities to look at putting forward local ordinances in Minnesota,” said Jacob Thomas, spokesman for OutFront Minnesota. “We know that conversion therapy is harmful, we know it’s happening in Minnesota and across the country, and it has been discounted by every major medical association.”
Duluth City Council President Noah Hobbs said he’s asked stakeholders to help craft an ordinance, though it could be some time before the council takes it up.
“We’re certainly exploring it, but we’re in very early stages,” he said.
In Superior, many community members spoke out in support of the ban.
Justin Hager told the council that he was encouraged to seek conversion therapy while in high school.
“I’ve earned the right to exist in a world where I don’t get told I am not worthy,” he said.
Anyone who practices conversion therapy in the city on those younger than 18 can now be fined up to $1,000, though the ban excludes conversations between a “pastor and a parishioner.”
Superior follows Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Sheboygan and other cities in banning conversion therapy. Many of the ordinances were adopted in the past year.
Advocates want bans imposed at the state or even federal level, but as with issues such as the minimum wage, local governments are taking the lead.
“We can’t stand by and wait for Madison,” said Superior City Council Member Jenny Van Sickle, who co-sponsored the ordinance. “We are more than pothole warriors. Compassion and education belong in local politics.”