La Crosse Common Council narrowly approves ban of conversion therapy on minors

6-4 vote follows debate over jurisdiction, enforceability
Weighing the pro’s and con’s of a city administrator

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — After a short but spirited debate, the La Crosse Common Council voted 6-4 Thursday to ban conversion therapy on minors, a controversial practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual preferences or gender identity.

The ordinance, which required the approval of six of 10 council members present to pass, had propelled nearly 100 letters and emails, both pro and con, to council members.

Although council members agreed that the conversion therapy is an undesirable practice, they disagreed on whether the city has jurisdiction and whether such a law would be enforceable.

The city’s Judiciary and Administrative Committee voted 5-1 May 31 to recommend passage of the ordinance, which states its purpose as being “to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of the City of La Crosse, especially the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including non-binary, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and to protect them against the exposure to serious harms caused by conversion therapy.”

Medical and psychological officials contend that such therapy is not only ineffective but also potentially seriously harmful.

The ordinance bans the practice on anyone younger than 18.

“I don’t think conversion therapy is a good idea,” council member Doug Happel said, adding that he doesn’t think the city should be involved in the issue.

Happel questioned whether it could be enforced and said, city officials’ responsibilities are limited to “streets, police, fire, the library and services to the city.”

“I do not think the city possibly can enforce this,” he said, adding, “My understanding is it’s not happening anywhere … that’s a state issue.”

If the council approved the ordinance, he said, “What’s the next thing we’re going to ban?”
Council President Barb Janssen echoed the sentiments, saying, “I don’t believe it (conversion therapy) should happen. I don’t believe it is happening.”

The issue is more of a state responsibility than the city’s, Janssen said, adding, “I believe this resolution means well, and I think it is to support that group.”

The council should “stick to city issues,” she said.

Council member Mac Kiel, who sponsored the resolution, said, “We’re here for the people … to improve lives of people.”

Kiel said she knows students who fear talking about gender identity with their parents until they are out of school.
“With all due respect, I think we have a duty to protect the youth in our city,” she said.

Shortly after the vote, the Trevor Project issued a statement saying, in part, “It is heartening to see elected officials in La Crosse take action to support LGBTQ youth, especially during Pride Month.”

The statement from the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people, also said, “It is thanks to the partnership of grassroots advocates, community leaders and organizations like Fair Wisconsin that LGBTQ youth across La Crosse are now protected from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion ‘therapy.’”

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