Cincinnati in mid-December became the second city in the United States to ban the practice of conversion therapy for gay youth.
The city council voted 7-2 to pass the law, which prohibits therapy designed to change sexual orientation or gender identity for minors and imposes a $200-a-day fine on violators following opposition from almost two dozen pastors and citizens. Twenty-one people spoke in opposition, decrying it as an assault on free speech and freedom of religion.
The lone person testifying for the measure was John Boggess, the board chairman of Equity Ohio. Scott Greenwood, a Cincinnati constitutional civil rights lawyer and gay rights activist, said the law would pass constitutional muster.
“The people who referred to this as free speech or freedom of religion are misguided because if it’s therapy, then it’s medical therapy. By definition, that is not speech and not free exercise of religion,” Greenwood said.
Washington, D.C., was the first U.S. city to ban conversion therapy. Four states, California, Illinois, Oregon and New Jersey also ban the practice for licensed psychologists and other mental health providers.
In a related matter, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has erected signs on a stretch of Interstate 71 in Southwestern Ohio to indicate that a group has adopted that portion of highway in memory of Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teenager who died of suicide a year ago.
Alcorn’s name now stands at the intersection of Interstate 71 and Ohio Route 48 where the 17-year-old from Kings Mills ran in front of a truck on the morning of Dec. 28, 2014. In messages found after her death, Alcorn said she had been forced into conversion therapy by her parents. She wrote that she wanted her death to mean something so someone would “fix society.”
Chris Fortin, a 2001 graduate of Kings High School and a graduate from the University of Cincinnati, led the Adopt-a-Highway effort in Alcorn’s memory. Fortin said he acted after the temporary signs erected by friends of Alcorn fell into disrepair. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer that if Alcorn had not written in her note, “I want my death to mean something,” he would not have felt so strongly to act. “I just felt something needed to be permanent and from the Ohio Department of Transportation.” He added that he plans to schedule the first cleanup for the area in January. “I have more people than I can count who are willing to help,” Fortin said.
Around the same time that ODOT was erecting the highway signs, sponsors of legislation to ban conversion therapy in Ohio held a press conference to urge legislative leaders to begin hearings on the measure.
Legislation calling for an end of conversion therapy for minors in Ohio has been introduced during past sessions, but to no avail. At the November press conference in Columbus, Judy Davis, a registered nurse and state-licensed social worker, told reporters that as a teen she was put into conversion therapy.
“I can tell you that the approach didn’t help me, Davis said. “As a child, I was bullied for being who I was and I felt a great deal of self-hatred, guilt and shame.”
In other news, a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) calls conversion therapy an inappropriate therapeutic approach based on the evidence and urges alternative ways to discuss sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression with young people.
The report includes the first publication of consensus statements developed by an expert panel by the American Psychological Association earlier this year.
The panel found that variations in sexual orientation and gender identity are normal and conversion therapies or other efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity are not effective, are harmful and are not appropriate therapeutic practices.
“When dealing with a sensitive topic such as gender identity or sexual orientation in young people, it is essential that families, educators, caregivers and providers seek the best available information and advice,” said SAMHSA Acting Administrator Kana Enomoto.
The information and resources contained within the report include the research in this area, detailed information on supportive therapeutic approaches, areas of opportunity for future research, existing strategies to end the practice of conversion therapy and targeted guidance for various audiences.Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth is available online at http://store.samhsa.gov/