Ban on 'conversion therapy' sought in St. Louis

Ban on 'conversion therapy' sought in St. Louis

CITY HALL – A move is on in the Board of Aldermen to ban a form of therapy meant to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LBGTQIA children.

On Friday, Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia introduced a bill that would prohibit medical and mental health care providers from providing conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or ex-gay therapy, on those younger than 18. The prohibition would apply whether or not the provider was paid for the service.

“It’s a discredited practice,” Ingrassia said. “Most of the major pediatric and other major associations and psychiatric associations have made statements or written white papers about how dangerous it is.”

Because of federal and state protections, religiously oriented organizations or counselors would still be able to undertake the practice. The city Department of Health would investigate potential violations and refer them to the city counselor for prosecution in municipal court.

The penalties are a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to 90 days or both, the maximum allowed by the City Charter.  

Ingrassia said she had worked with various LBGTQIA organizations in developing the bill. Columbia, Mo., has already approved such a bill, and authorities in Kansas City are working on one.

Co-sponsors are Second Ward Alderwoman Lisa Middlebrook, Seventh Ward Alderman Jack Coatar, Eighth Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice, Ninth Ward Alderman Dan Guenther, 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan E. Green, 18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd, 19th Ward Alderwoman Marlene E. Davis and 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn.

Cohn is the first openly gay member of the Board of Aldermen. 

“It causes more emotional and mental harm to actually undergo these types of practices, and they’re ineffective. They don’t work,” Cohn said. 

“They’ve found time and time again that people who have founded organizations that have promoted it have come out and repudiated the practice itself,” Cohn said. “The reasons that they continue are perverse, and they absolutely should not be allowed in the city of St. Louis itself – or, frankly, any place in the United States of America.”

Cohn said he knew older people who had undergone the therapy in their childhood.

The Board of Aldermen’s Health and Human Services Committee will hold a hearing on the bill at its meeting at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, in Room 208 (the Kennedy Room) of City Hall. 

The bill has the support of the city health department.

City Health Director Dr. Frederick L. Echols said the practice had been deemed dangerous because it is based on the idea that it treats a mental disorder. 

According to information in the bill, a wide group of education, social work, health, mental health and counseling professionals, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, has concluded that the practice of conversion therapy is not scientifically valid. Those professionals have determined that the practice is dangerous to a person’s mental and physical well-being, the bill said, in a “whereas” section.

 The “whereas” section also notes that “As a city that strives to respect and celebrate its diversity, the Board of Aldermen affirms that being LGBTQIA is not a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming.”

If any mental health professionals use the practice in St. Louis, they apparently are keeping a low profile. In an internet search, no advertisements were found for someone who used the practice, in St. Louis or in the surrounding areas.

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