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Minneapolis and St. Paul move toward ban on ‘conversion therapy’

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A crowd gathers during a press conference.
A crowd gathers during a press conference about the joint launch of proposed municipal ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul restricting the practice known as conversion therapy on Friday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Minneapolis and St. Paul are proposing new city ordinances that would ban gay conversion therapy, the controversial treatment designed to change people’s sexual orientation or sexual identity.

The move comes after state lawmakers failed to pass a law banning the practice during the last legislative session.

Backers’ hope is the ordinances will both end the use of conversion therapy and raise awareness about the practice.

“We are really trying to make sure that people are not being abused by harmful, quasi-therapeutic practices,” said one of the ordinance’s sponsors, Andrea Jenkins, vice president of the Minneapolis City Council and the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the United States.

Supporters aren't entirely clear on how the ban would work, but once in place, they say it would rely on people to report any complaints of therapists suspected of practicing conversion therapy.

Twin Cities' officials talk about ordinances to ban conversion therapy.
Minneapolis council member Andrea Jenkins (right) speaks during the press conference Friday announcing the ordinances. Also pictured is and St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen (center).
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Eighteen states have passed bans on the practice, as have a number of cities. A bill was brought to the Minnesota state legislature last year but didn’t pass. Republicans in the Senate tried to add language saying the bill would ban "coercive" and "aversive" practices; Democrats said that would effectively undo the purpose of the bill.

The LGBTQ advocacy group OutFront Minnesota is working with both city councils to forward the ordinances in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Organizers announced the plans Friday afternoon with Jenkins, Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen, and others.

Monica Meyer, OutFront’s executive director, said there are therapists in the Twin Cities who continue the harmful practice.

“It’s actually like snake oil of the olden days, having people put leeches on to get rid of any kind of infection. What we want to say is that this is a practice that does harm, that it’s actually fraud and it needs to end,” said Meyer.

Last month, the New York City Council announced that is repealing its ban on the therapy not even two years after it passed the measure. A Christian legal organization filed a federal lawsuit against the ban, and city officials worried what would happen if the case ended up in the Supreme Court, which has becoming increasingly conservative under the Trump administration.

Backers of the Twin Cities’ ordinances are hoping for a vote on them next month. OutFront is also planning to renew its push in the state legislature next year.

This reporting is part of Call to Mind, our MPR initiative to foster new conversations about mental health.