St. Paul City Council

St. Paul, Minn., Unanimously Votes to Ban Conversion Therapy

St. Paul City Council
St. Paul City Council

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (June 17, 2020) — The St. Paul City Council voted unanimously, 7-0, this afternoon to ban conversion therapy in the capital city of Minnesota. The vote makes St. Paul the third city in the state to ban conversion therapy, after Minneapolis and Duluth.

The new ordinance prohibits licensed medical and mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors. Violations would incur fines of up to $1,000.

In this morning’s city council public-comment period, a local therapist, conversion therapy survivor, university researcher, and the executive director of OutFront Minnesota addressed the harmful practice of conversion therapy from multiple perspectives. The comments occurred during a virtual hearing aired on the city’s website.

No one spoke in defense of conversion therapy.

The advocate

During public comment, Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, noted that the United Nations has characterized conversion therapy as a form of torture. “When professional therapists tell people that something is fundamentally wrong with them,” Meyer said, “that causes significant harm.

Meyer said Minnesotans are surprised to learn from OutFront that conversion therapy still takes place, and survivors’ accounts of abuse come as a shock. “We also know that there’s been conferences planned with conversion therapists in Minnesota,” Meyer said. “There was one last year in our western suburbs, another this year canceled because of COVID. We know that our cities can take a stand and fight back against this harmful practice.”

The therapist

Michelle Bahr, a drug and alcohol counselor in nearby Shakopee, commented as a therapist and as the mother of a gay son.

“In my last 13 years of experience, I have sat with those who have been wounded by this horrible practice,” Bahr said. “For many, drugs and alcohol seem to be the only way to numb the pain that these programs cause. It’s interesting that we call this conversion therapy when as therapists we know that it is not what we therapists are trained to do. We are not trained to encourage somebody to change who and what they are. Conversion therapy is a form of child abuse. Please don’t forget that when we say yes to conversion therapy, we are saying yes to abusing children.”

Reflecting on how people are fooled into seeking to change a familiy member’s sexual orientation or gender identity, Bahr said, “We think about what are all the other parents out there doing, who are being duped by religious leaders into sending their kids to these so-called ‘therapists.’ Perhaps they are intertwined in a religious institution that is falsely telling them that their child can be cured or can be changed. We have lost way too many sons and daughters and children to suicide because of conversion therapy.”

The mental-health expert

Andy J. Johnson, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology at Bethel University, summarized the positions of the major mental-health and medical associations and emphasized that “this is not a matter of religion. This is a matter of putting an end to mental health malpractice. There is no scientifically rigorous evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of conversion therapy.”

The survivor

For 26-year-old Jory Miller, a Twin Cities conversion-therapy survivor, this was his second attempt to ban the practices that harmed him. His previous effort included testimony to a Minnesota House committee and letters to the editor. It was pretty disheartening, Miller said, when the Minnesota legislature in 2019 failed to ban conversion therapy statewide.

“I grew up very rural, and through just circumstance and coincidence my parents found out about my sexuality when I was 15 or 16 years old,” Miller said. During the ensuing conversion therapy, “a doctor of psychology was constantly alluding to sexual abuse that didn’t exist. They were looking for some sort of traumatic incident that didn’t happen to me. There was constant pressure to try to identify some sort of porn addiction which wasn’t a reality or even part of my coming out story. It was psychological torture that I endured for quite a while.”

When these fraudulent practices failed, Miller resorted to a kind of self-imposed aversion therapy.

“There was an incident where I took a JC Penney catalog and I went outside — my parents had horses,” Miller told City Council today. “And I would browse through the men’s section of the JC Penney catalog, and I would grab an electric fence to try to cure myself because the conversion therapy program wasn’t doing its job.”

The effort to change his sexual orientation continues to impact Miller’s mental health. “I’ve gone through quite a bit of therapy myself now to try to correct the thought processes that I created in response to the conversion therapy and the experiences that I had. [As a result of conversion therapy] I turned out to be quite confused about myself and my identity and how I can move through the world and what I could actually be and who I truly was.” Miller concluded his public comment saying, “To ban conversion therapy is necessary. It is nothing that children should endure and I hope you hear that this is something that St. Paul needs to pass immediately.”

The final vote

During the afternoon City Council meeting, the council reflected on the morning public comments. Councilmember Mitra Jalali agreed that conversion therapy is a form a torture and wondered why it took so long to ban. Councilmember Dai Thao pondered the potential impact of conversion therapy on himself, given the experiences of survivors.

Born Perfect is the leading campaign to end conversion therapy. We are survivors, lawyers, and policy experts working together to protect LGBTQ+ people nationally and around the globe. Born Perfect is a program of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Raquel Willis speaks to Black Trans Lives Matter protest

Born Perfect Celebrates Historic Supreme Court Ban against LGBTQ+ Workplace Discrimination

Raquel Willis speaks to Black Trans Lives Matter protest
Raquel Willis speaks to thousands during a protest in support of the Black Trans Lives Matter movement in front of the Brooklyn Museum, in Brooklyn, New York (Photo: Cole Witter)

The whoops and cheers began among Born Perfect staff at 7:04 a.m. local time. The U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled that federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against LGBTQ+ workers. The Court ruled, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, that Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on account of sexual orientation or gender identity.

For those of us who have experienced discrimination in our own lives, and who feared for unemployed friends in a troubled economy, the moment was exhilarating.

“This decision is historic and gives a huge boost to our efforts to end the harms caused by conversion therapy,” said Born Perfect Co-Founder Mathew Shurka. “First and foremost, the ruling destigmatizes LGBTQ+ people by recognizing that they are entitled to nationwide legal protections. In addition, by providing nationwide protection against workplace bias, the Court has removed a major motivation for parents to try to prevent a child from growing up to be LGBTQ+. In so many cases, parents put their children in conversion therapy because they falsely believe they are protecting them from discrimination and bias. By helping to eliminate that discrimination in the workplace, the Court is helping to educate parents that their children can grow up to be productive members of society who will enjoy the same legal protections as others.  And finally, the Court’s decision signals to all LGBTQ+ people, including youth, that we are equal, valued, and respected members of society.”

At the same time, this ruling against workplace discrimination is coming down at a time when our country’s failure to come to terms with our history of virulent racism is painfully apparent.  

“This ruling inspires us, but it’s happening at a time when we must act anew to support and protect Black lives, particularly Black transgender lives and Black survivors of conversion therapy,” Shurka said. “So our work isn’t done. But this ruling provides a solid foundation for future progress and great hope for the future.”

More legal work to be done

“This is a huge victory not just for LGBTQ people, but for our country, which benefits enormously when LGBTQ people are permitted to participate and contribute on equal terms,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Today’s decision will be remembered as a watershed in the history of LGBTQ rights, even as our country continues to grapple with the brutal legacy of racism. The transgender movement owes a particular debt of gratitude to Aimee Stephens, who courageously fought this battle in the months of her life.”

Despite today’s federal ruling, most states still permit discrimination in public accommodations, such as stores, restaurants, and hotels. And the Trump Administration continues to target LGBTQ people in the military as well as in federally funded programs in health, housing, and education. The Equality Act, proposed federal legislation that would add comprehensive protections for LGBTQ+ people to federal law, is necessary to address these remaining issues of legal discrimination.

Changing Southern LGBTQ+ lives

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, pointed out that the legislation will help more than 5 million LGBTQ workers in Southern states. “The ruling ensures a blanket of employment protections for LGBTQ people rather than the inadequate patchwork that has all but stopped at the borders of Southern states,” Beach-Ferrara said. “We lift up the reality that Southerners with multiple marginalized identities face multiple layers of oppression. Black LGBTQ Southerners, for example, not only confront employment discrimination but also police brutality, anti-Black racism, and disproportionate rates of living with HIV. As we celebrate today’s ruling, we must continue to push for dignity, respect, and justice for all LGBTQ people in every sphere of life.”

Decades of legal precedent

The ruling rested upon years of legal precedent in workplace discrimination, precedents that were established with the hard work of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, LGBTQ Advocates & Defenders, the Transgender Law Center, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and many other organizations.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, reflected, “We commend the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm that LGBTQ people are, and should be, protected from workplace discrimination under federal law. The Leadership Conference coordinated the legislative campaign to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and we are proud to see that historic law applied correctly.”

Born Perfect is the leading campaign to end conversion therapy. We are survivors, lawyers, and policy experts working together to protect LGBTQ+ people nationally and around the globe. Born Perfect is a program of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Born Perfect Praises Kansans for Roeland Park Conversion-Therapy Ban

ROELAND PARK, Kansas (June 2, 2020) — The City Council of Roeland Park, Kansas, last evening voted 7-0 for an ordinance banning conversion therapy.

The ordinance bans efforts by mental-health providers to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Such efforts have proven to be harmful and sometimes fatal, and destructive to families.

Jae Moyer of Equality Kansas of Metro Kansas City thanked three key city councilmembers for sponsoring the ordinance: Jan Faidley, Benjamin Thomas, and Jennifer Hill.

Moyer, Rep. Susan Ruiz, Born Perfect and others spoke during the council’s first consideration of the ordinance. The Trevor Project provided additional support.

Born Perfect Co-Founder Mathew Shurka spoke to the city council of his experiences as a survivor. Starting at age 16, Shurka spent five years in traumatizing and depressing treatments, including being erroneously taught that an overbearing mother and distant father were responsible for his homosexuality — resulting in years of family strife.

“Cities across America are saving our lives by banning therapy that is rooted in false blame and extreme shame,” Shurka said today. “Conversion therapy destroys families. It harms youth. It has led to the suicide of people we knew and loved. We’re grateful to Roeland Park leaders who passed this ordinance unanimously. They have reaffirmed that LGBTQ youth are born perfect.”

Councilmembers: Room to do more

Before the vote, councilmembers asked if the ordinance could be extended to adults under guardianship, or to unlicensed individuals or organizations that perform conversion therapy for compensation. The council and mayor agreed to pass the limited ban and consider amendments in the future.

Twenty states and more than 70 jurisdictions across the United States have banned conversion therapy. Equality Kansas hopes that the local bans will lead to county bans and eventually a state ban.

These bans are succeeding because local, state, and national activists support each other across organizational lines — and because the voices of conversion therapy survivors are undeniable proof of the need to ban the fraudulent, harmful, and often fatal abuse of LGBTQ youths and young adults.

“In Roeland Park, the city council once again provided historic leadership in standing up for LGBTQ youth,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which provides legal support to U.S. states and cities in implementing and defending bans. “In addition to preventing licensed mental health professionals from engaging in this harmful practice, we must also educate religious leaders and faith communities that no matter what their beliefs, pressuring a young person to try to change their sexual orientation or gender identity is extremely damaging. There is no place for conversion therapy in our society.” 

Born Perfect is the leading campaign to end conversion therapy. We are survivors, lawyers, and policy experts working together to protect LGBTQ+ people nationally and around the globe. Born Perfect is a program of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Calgary, Alberta. Photo by Bernard Spragg, NZ via Flickr

Born Perfect Praises Calgary for Banning Conversion Therapy

Calgary, Alberta. Photo by Bernard Spragg, NZ via Flickr
Calgary, Alberta (Photo: Bernard Spragg)

CALGARY, Alberta (May 25, 2020) — The City Council of Calgary, Alberta, this afternoon approved a bylaw banning conversion therapy.

The bylaw prevents businesses in the city of 1.2 million from advertising, practicing, or knowingly harboring efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Such efforts have proven to be harmful and sometimes fatal to counselees, and destructive to their families.

“The continued efforts by jurisdictions across Canada to protect LGBTQ youth are lifesaving,” said Mathew Shurka, Co-Founder and Chief Strategist of Born Perfect. “Conversion therapy destroys families and causes serious harm to minors, sometimes leading to suicide. We are grateful to the Calgary City Councillors who passed this bylaw unanimously. Their vote sends a powerful message to every child that they are born perfect.”

Born Perfect spoke earlier this month to the city committee that was considering the proposed bylaw.

During final council discussions of the bylaw, proponents of the ban said it would ban inhumane torture and fraud. Critics said, without offering evidence, that the bylaw would infringe upon religious expression. Some councillors on both sides said the bylaw might be difficult to enforce because conversion therapy is often conducted illicitly.

Councillor: A city of welcome does not shame its own

Councillor Jeromy Farkas spoke powerfully about his own experience of shaming by proponents of conversion therapy: “I’ve been debating all morning whether to read some of the e-mails I received, pointedly making the claim that I’m somehow inhuman. That I’m unfit for office. That I am unfit to receive God’s love or anyone else’s. That I must be, that I will punished.”

Farkas also recalled the trauma of being pressured at a young age, by his former best friend, to “pray the ‘me’ away. I felt humiliated. More than 20 years later … I still have never felt as humiliated as I did that day. A close second comes the time when I approached a person whom I respected about my intention to run for city council. They thought that my orientation was not only the reason I wouldn’t be able to elected, but also the reason that I wouldn’t be any good at it.”

Farkas concluded that “I think it is worth sending a signal about the kind of city we are and want to be. I want you to hear me clearly. You can be anything. You can do anything. You can go anywhere but most of all you are welcome here. Welcome in Calgary, welcome in the council chamber and welcome to love. We are welcome here.”

Community allies spotlight survivor experiences

Born Perfect supported No Conversion Canada, Hillhurst United Church, and Affirming Connections in their campaign for Calgary’s Prohibited Businesses Bylaw. Born Perfect wrote on May 12, and spoke on May 13, to the Standing Policy Committee on Community and Protective Services. During these committee hearings, several Calgary-area survivors recalled their own trauma and recovery. Their stories served as evidence to the council that conversion therapy is fraudulent, and that its proponents practice shame and family disruption, not mental-health support.

After the hearings, and following the lead of Hillhurst United Church, 44 local religious organizations — Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Unitarian — joined the call for a conversion-therapy ban. Affirming Coordinator Keith Murray of Hillhurst United said the church has become a local sanctuary for survivors of conversion therapy.

Dr. Kristopher Wells is research chair of the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University. Wells said via Twitter upon the bylaw’s approval: “Calgary now has passed some of the strongest & most comprehensive conversion therapy prohibition legislation not only in Canada, but in the world.” Wells added: “Let’s not forget what this is really about: The survivors. If this bylaw saves one person from the damage done by conversion therapy, it will all have been worth it. To those we’ve lost. We will never forget you. No one needs to change who they are or who they love.”

‘Much-needed courage’

Wells believes that conversion therapy is rooted in anti-LGBTQ ideology. “It’s called a pseudo-scientific practice because it’s not backed by any evidence,” Wells said. “It’s, in fact, fraudulent. It’s deceptive and it’s dangerous.” The World Health Organization and the Canadian Physiological Association oppose the practice, and the College of Alberta Psychologists has banned it.

During the campaign, Affirming Connections Director Pam Rocker frequently voiced the importance of passing the proposed bylaw without amendments or exceptions. The bylaw passed by a vote of 14-1 with no amendments.

Conversion therapy has been restricted in four Canadian provinces and in several local Canadian jurisdictions; pressure is growing upon Parliament to pass a sweeping federal ban.

“The Calgary City Council has shown much-needed courage and leadership in standing up for LGBTQ youth in the face of vicious attacks by Journey Canada and hate-based groups that promote dangerous lies and misinformation about LGBTQ people,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which provides legal support to U.S. states and cities in implementing and defending bans. “Contrary to the false messages of these groups, being LGBTQ is a natural part of the spectrum of human identity. All children deserve love and support, and the City of Calgary did the right thing in protecting people from this devastating practice.”  

Born Perfect is the leading campaign to end conversion therapy. We are survivors, lawyers, and policy experts working together to protect LGBTQ+ people nationally and around the globe. Born Perfect is a program of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Calgary Standing Policy Committee

Born Perfect Supports Calgary Bylaw to Protect LGBTQ+ People from Conversion Therapy

Born Perfect presented the following letter to the City of Calgary on May 12 and offered public comment to the Standing Policy Committee on Community and Protective Services on May 13, 2020.

Calgary Standing Policy CommitteeMay 12, 2020
Standing Policy Committee
on Community and Protective Services
City of Calgary, Alberta

To the Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to support the proposed Prohibited Businesses Bylaw.

I am the co-founder and chief strategist of Born Perfect, a U.S.-based, survivor-led movement of survivors and legal experts working to end conversion therapy. In the past eight years, Born Perfect has helped to pass laws protecting minors from conversion therapy in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 70 localities in the U.S. We have also consulted with a number of legislative bodies and public officials considering similar legislation in other countries.

As a survivor of conversion therapy, I know firsthand that attempts by a therapist to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity result in serious, lasting harms. Like many other young people, I believed the professional therapists who told me I could change my sexual orientation and become straight. But after five years of doing everything I could to change, I was plunged into depression and despair upon realizing that these “therapies” were bogus and that I could not change.

Like other survivors, it has taken me years to recover from the damage this experience caused. I will never be able to recover the time that I spent in this bogus therapy, which prevented me for years from living as my true self and robbed me of years that I will never regain. Conversion therapy also nearly destroyed my family, driving a wedge between me and my parents and siblings, based on my therapists’ false assertion that being gay is caused by problems or deficiencies in parenting. There is absolutely no scientific basis for that assertion, which underline almost all conversion therapy. Instead, by blaming parents, conversion therapists drive a wedge between LGBTQ youth and their families at the very time when young people most need parental love and support.

As my experience and that of other survivors shows, conversion therapy is an insidious practice that has no place in the practice of modern mental health care.

Since California passed the first law protecting minors from conversion therapy in 2012, many more states and localities in the United States, and a growing number of countries across the globe, have taken action to address this public health crisis. Importantly, these laws have been supported by elected officials from across the political spectrum, in recognition that this is truly an issue of public health, not politics, and that all responsible public officials have a responsibility to protect young people from a practice that is universally condemned as ineffective and unsafe by the international medical community.

For these reasons, we strongly support the proposed bylaw and urge you to vote in favor of its passage.

Very truly yours,

Mathew Shurka
Co-Founder, Born Perfect

Born Perfect is the leading campaign to end conversion therapy. We are survivors, lawyers, and policy experts working together to protect LGBTQ+ people nationally and around the globe. Born Perfect is a program of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Supreme Court Order Marks the End of Legal Challenges to New Jersey’s Ban on Conversion Therapy for Minors

By Chris Stoll, Esq.NCLR Senior Staff Attorney

On February 29, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Doe v. Christie, a case challenging New Jersey’s law prohibiting state-licensed therapists from engaging in the discredited practice of conversion therapy with patients under 18 years of age. The Supreme Court’s order allows the law to remain in full effect and marks the final chapter in a nearly three-year-long series of challenges filed by Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT legal group.

NCLR was proud to join Garden State Equality in asking the New Jersey legislature and governor to pass this life-saving legislation, and then to represent GSE in successfully urging the federal courts to reject this legal challenge and uphold the law.

At the time Governor Chris Christie signed the bill into law on August 19, 2013, New Jersey was the second state after California to pass legislation protecting against harmful efforts by licensed therapists to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity – practices that put youth at risk of serious lifelong harm, including depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Since that time, similar laws have been passed in Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Illinois, and NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign is working with leaders in dozens of other states to bring the same protections to young people everywhere.

Wherever these laws have been challenged, NCLR has also stood ready to defend them in the courts. And we’ve been successful. Federal appeals courts have uniformly rejected legal challenges to these laws brought by anti-LGBT legal groups representing therapists, minors, and parents who want to preserve these outdated and dangerous “treatments.”

These federal court decisions rest on the common-sense principle that states have the power to regulate medical care to protect patients from treatments that are ineffective and risky. Just as a doctor or patient has no right to administer or receive untested or unsafe prescription medications, therapists have no right to engage in so-called treatments that do not benefit minors and expose them to serious risks of harm. Laws protecting minors from conversion therapy are based on a strong scientific consensus among medical and mental health professionals, and states have a right—and a duty—to make sure licensed therapists are not engaging in these harmful and discredited practices.