Nationwide, conversion therapy has come under increasing scrutiny. Conversion therapy as a term refers to a set of practices that attempt to “convert” LGBTQ+ individuals into straight, cisgender versions of themselves—often with devastating psychological consequences for the victims, which are often children and youths.
Many states—including some red states—have banned or are considering bans on the practice, and where states won’t act local governments have taken the lead. Columbia, St. Joseph, Kansas City, and St. Louis have all passed ordinances banning conversion therapy as a business practice.
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Now some suburbs are taking up the fight as well—this summer, North Kansas City, Independence, and Blue Springs have all taken conversion therapy bans under consideration. All three cities modeled their ordinances on those passed by Missouri’s larger cities. North Kansas City passed its ordinance on July 20, while Independence voted down the version of the ban presented on July 19 and Blue Springs has likewise yet to pass a ban, according to ThePitchKC.com.
However, the issue isn’t dead in Independence or Blue Springs, according to local activists.
This isn’t the first time the measure has failed in Blue Springs. Mayor Carson Ross told The Examiner that he didn’t believe banning the practice was within the scope of local government: “At the local level it has no enforcement and would just be feel-good legislation,” he said. “I hear them, I’m sympathetic,” Ross said, “but there needs to be some enforcement behind it rather than simply putting something else on books.”
Former Blue Springs Planning Commission member Scott Casey says such a ban would be in the city’s purview. “We’re not calling on the city to regulate parenting decisions or interfere with religious beliefs. It’s regulating a business practice,” he said. And activists plan to continue to revise and lobby for an ordinance that can pass the scrutiny of local lawmakers. The future of a conversion ban ordinance seems brighter in Independence, where city councilmembers seemed receptive to a revised version and where the measure was voted down 4-3.
According to The Pitch KC, Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said, “This is extremely important to me personally. It’s essential for members of our community to know that if they are victimized, they have a place to turn.” The mayor and other local leaders indicated that the ordinance is being revised and may be reconsidered in the fall.
Why local governments need to ban conversion therapy
What is the urgency? According to The Trevor Project, 1 in 10 LGBTQ+ youth have been the victim of this practice. Further, data shows that LGBTQ youth who undergo conversion therapy attempt suicide twice as often and are 2.5 times more likely to report multiple attempts than those who don’t. And LGBTQ youth are already at much greater risk of suicide than their peers without this added stressor.
In their Statement on Conversion Therapy, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) have concluded that “conversion therapy constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment when it is conducted forcibly or without an individual’s consent and may amount to torture depending on the circumstances, namely the severity of physical and mental pain and suffering inflicted.”
Standard practices amongst those who practice various forms of conversion therapy include: “corrective violence and invalid medication (including anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and hormone injections). Electroconvulsive therapy, aversive treatments using electric shocks or vomit-inducing drugs, exorcism or ritual cleansing (often involving violence while reciting religious verse), force-feeding and food deprivation, forced nudity, and forced isolation and confinement are some of the more extreme examples of conversion therapy.”
The UN Committee against Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have also stated that conversion therapy contravenes the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
According to the IFEG statement, therefore, “As a form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or torture, states have an obligation to ensure that both public and private actors are not directly committing, instigating, inciting, encouraging, acquiescing in or otherwise participating or being complicit in conversion therapy.”
While the State of Missouri has no laws to protect its LGBTQ citizens from this practice, cities can and are taking the lead, with promising results.