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This map shows all the states in the US that have laws banning conversion therapy.

The Lawrence City Commission is weighing in on ordinance 9828, which could ban the use of conversion therapy for minors in Lawrence. The commission’s debate came quickly after LGBTQ+ rights came under attack in Kansas, as the state senate recently voted to ban transgender students from playing girls sports.

Roeland Park is the first and only city in Kansas to ban conversion therapy for minors. The city approved the ordinance banning the practice in summer 2020. 

“We tend to favor policy as rules and regulations, but policies also are a reflection of our community values, and by outlawing this practice, the city of Lawrence would be reaffirming its value as an open and affirming home to all LGBTQIA people,” said Inoru Wade, a KU doctoral student and a proponent of the ordinance and co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Center for Inclusion. 

The Kansas Legislature has attempted to create bills prohibiting the use of conversion therapy three times in 2017, 2019 and 2020, but each of the bills died while in committee. 

The proposed ordinance defines conversion therapy as “any practice, counseling or purported treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” It does not include counseling that gives assistance to someone exploring their identity or undergoing any procedures pertaining to gender transition. 

“As of January 2018, an estimated 57,000 LGBTQ youth will undergo this practice from a religious or spiritual adviser,” said Marciana Vequist, a proponent of the bill and licensed psychologist with a private practice in Lawrence. “It’s not appropriate to refer to conversion techniques as real therapy, because they’re based in the assumption that LGBTQ lifestyles are bad and not a normal part of the spectrum of gender expression or identity.” 

The proposal will prohibit licensed, certified or registered medical or mental health professionals from providing conversion therapy. Clergy or pastoral counselors who give religious counseling to congregants are excluded. 

The punishment for practicing conversion therapy could be a fine up to $500. 

Twenty states already have bans in place to fight against conversion therapy at the state-level, and many more counties and municipalities have banned it as well.

“[Conversion therapy] is, in fact, a relic of history; a relic of history that has no place within any modern city, state or nation,” Wade said. “It is ineffective in its stated goals and can actually lead to increased depression, self-harm, substance abuse and even suicide."

Opponents of the bill expressed concern that the definition of conversion therapy in the ordinance is too vague. 

“There could be a case where there’s a faith-based school or faith-based situation where a licensed therapist is needed who belongs to that faith-based organization, and that person should have the same exemption that the pastor would, because the pastor doesn’t necessarily have the correct therapeutic experience or knowledge,” Maureen Murray, a Lawrence resident who opposes the bill, said. “So, I just asked that that be considered, that it be broadened beyond just pastoral workers.”

Some commissioners expressed concern over the clergy exemption. 

“Personally, I think that when we’re talking about more than two times the rate of suicide for folks who are subjected to this therapy, I’m not willing to carve out an exception for clergy to engage in this,” Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said.

The commission deferred their vote to the next meeting, pending an executive session to further discuss the ordinance. The state Legislature has no bills currently addressing the practice of conversion therapy in Kansas.

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