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Sun Prairie becomes latest Wisconsin city to ban 'conversion therapy'

Sun Prairie becomes latest Wisconsin city to ban 'conversion therapy'

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Sun Prairie is the latest Wisconsin municipality to ban so-called conversion therapy for minors, although it’s not clear there are any practitioners in the city using the psychologically debunked methods for changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules recently held an executive session on Clearinghouse Rule 19-166. The rule would update professional standards for marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, and social workers. It would also prohibit practitioners from utilizing or promoting conversion therapy in an attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), committee member, argued that conversion therapy is recognized as emotionally damaging by national social worker organizations and should be banned. "I don't think it's right for this committee to endorse that social workers...continue to be able to condone a conduct...that has been condemned," Sen. Larson said. In response, Senator Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater), committee chair, said that he's tried to work with the Department of Safety and Professional Services and other organizations on the issue without success. Sen. Nass also argued the importance of following legislative intent and keeping departments within their rule-making bounds. "I think it's imperative that the Legislature maintain the boundaries of the departments and not let them go willy nilly changing, in this case, statewide definitions and decide that they're going to alter those."

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There are also efforts among Republicans in the GOP-controlled state Legislature to preserve the practice, and on the Democratic side to ban it, although it’s not clear how often it occurs statewide, either.

Sun Prairie, a city of 35,000 people northeast of Madison, joins at least 11 other Wisconsin municipalities to pass such a ban: Madison, Milwaukee, West Allis, Shorewood, Cudahy, Glendale, Racine, Sheboygan, Appleton, Eau Claire and Superior. Wausau has passed a resolution supporting a statewide ban.

“No reliable evidence exists that sexual orientation can be changed, and medical institutions warn that conversion therapy practices are ineffective and potentially harmful,” the city said in a news release Thursday announcing the ordinance, which passed the City Council unanimously on Tuesday.

The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and other professional health care groups have come out against the practice.

The Sun Prairie ordinance requires anyone who gets a complaint about a licensed therapist or physician practicing conversion therapy to report it to the board or agency that licenses the practitioner. Conversion therapy is also known as reparative or reorientation therapy, healing sexuality or sexual recovery.

Last year, a board that oversees therapists within the state Department of Safety and Professional Services developed an administrative rule that includes a provision prohibiting conversion therapy. In response, Republicans in January introduced a bill to block the rule and later placed the bill into committee, effectively blocking the rule from going into effect because the bill won’t reach Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ desk, where he would be able to veto it.

At the time, a spokesperson for Whitewater Republican Sen. Steve Nass, co-chair of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, said Republicans’ objection to the rule was not about conversion therapy, but that the rule went beyond the scope of state law.

Democrats in late April and early May introduced bills to ban conversion therapy statewide but their prospects in the Republican-controlled Legislature are uncertain.

Jake King, Sun Prairie’s communications and diversity strategist, said he’s not aware of any conversion therapy practitioners in the city.

But “if this is going on, this is the city’s stance,” he said of the ordinance. He said the city especially wants the LGBTQ community and its youth to understand the city’s position.

Austin Kieler, founder of People Against Conversion Therapy, worked with Sun Prairie on the ordinance. “Unfortunately, with the nature of conversion therapy, practitioners usually do so in the dark and hide their practice,” Kieler said.

“I don’t currently know of any practitioners in Sun Prairie. The same goes for the state of Wisconsin,” said Kieler, who’s also worked in state Democratic politics and on state Superintendent-elect Jill Underly’s campaign.

“What legislation like the ban passed in Sun Prairie accomplishes is ensuring we send a message to currently practicing or would-be practitioners that conversion therapy is not acceptable in Sun Prairie and more generally in Wisconsin.”


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