LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Two Lansing City Council members have asked the city attorney to draft a law that would ban the practice of conversion therapy within city limits.
“Jim [Smiertka] said he has two people working to see if we can write an ordinance to ban conversion therapy across the board,” says Ryan Kost, First Ward Councilmember.
“The testimony that was presented to the council Monday night was gut-wrenching, frankly,” says Third Ward Councilmember Adam Hussain. “To know that our people are subjected to that type of abuse is compelling and certainly the motivation behind my support of what Councilman Kost is working on.”
Hussain and Kost say they were moved by testimony at Monday night’s Lansing City Council meeting. Members of the LGBTQ community attended that meeting to voice their concerns about the Lansing City Rescue Mission, and some spoke of their experiences with the therapy.
The Mission itself was not accused of promoting or using the controversial practice.
“Many of those who came to speak their truth have been subject to that conversion therapy as an adult,” Kost tells 6 News.
Conversion therapy is a form of intervention designed to change a gay person’s sexual orientation or a transgender person’s gender identity. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry calls the conversion or reparative therapy “harmful” and finds the practices “lack scientific credibility and clinical utility.”
The American Psychiatric Association lists the potential outcomes from conversion therapy as “great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
The State of Michigan banned conversion therapy in June, but that ban only applies to people under the age of 18.
A study published Wednesday on PLOS One found that while conversion therapy has been widely discredited it remains prevalent. The study revealed that transgender people who more likely to be subjected to the practice than cisgender people. It also found the practice was more common in the U.S. than in Canada.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor says he is opposed to conversion therapy and supportive of the council’s actions to ban it.
“The practice of conversion therapy, especially on children, can be extremely damaging. I support the state’s efforts to ban the practice in Michigan,” he tells 6 News in an emailed statement. “I am also fully supportive of City Council passing an ordinance to ban conversion therapy Lansing.”
Kost says he accepts that the government can’t stop an adult from accessing the therapy if he or she desires, but he says he can make sure that the program is not being offered in the city.
“What you do is stop providers in the city of Lansing from doing it within our boundaries,” Kost says.
He calls conversion therapy “a scam.”
“The damage it does to someone’s mental health cannot be measured, but we can count body bags,” he says. “I have a duty to protect people.”
Bans across the country have focused on licensed therapists and challenges under religious liberty arguments have fallen flat in federal courts. Jay Kaplan, LGBTQ+ Rights Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, says the ban Kost and Hussain are promoting may run a religious liberties challenge.
“The reality regarding conversion therapy is that many times such ‘therapy’ is administered not by licensed mental health counselors or doctors, but by faith leaders through a camp affiliated with the church,” Kaplan tells 6 News in an email. “Should the City pass an ordinance banning all persons (not limiting it to licensed professionals) from engaging in the practice, it wouldn’t surprise me if a faith leader in a church would challenge the ordinance as violating the First Amendment of separation of church and state.”
Kost says he is unfazed by the threat of a legal challenge.
“So be it,” he says. “We are constantly playing defense. Maybe for once we stood up and fought for the right reasons.”