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Aldermen give initial approval to bill banning conversion therapy for minors

CITY HALL – St. Louis aldermen spent an hour on Friday in emotional condemnations of a therapy that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation. Then, in the first of two votes, they overwhelmingly voted for a bill that would ban the practice on minors.

“This is a practice that I’ve been familiar with most of my life,” said 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn, the first openly gay person elected to the Board of Aldermen. “This is a practice that’s rooted in bigotry and homophobia. It does irreparable harm to individuals.

“This type of therapy is absolutely deplorable. It’s harmful.” 

Cohn’s voice broke as he spoke of his own experience as a child and how he worked to come to terms with his own sexuality.

The bill, sponsored by Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, would prohibit medical and mental health care providers from practicing conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or ex-gay therapy, on those younger than 18.

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 penalty would be a fine of up to $500. Provisions calling for jail time of up to 90 days and making it a penalty even if practitioners aren’t paid for the service were dropped from the original bill. 

Many aldermen told their own stories of how the issue has affected them; some also discussed parental rights.

Third Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley spoke of how important it was to allow parents to do what they believed was best for their children. Bosley said after the voice vote for initial approval that he had voted against the bill.

“The government is trying to take away the way you raise your children,” he said.

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro said it was important that parents not feel boxed in in dealing with their children. 

But, he said, “I’m going to vote for it because I don’t think it boxes people in. I don’t believe this blocks a parent from doing what they feel.”

Echoing that feeling, 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard said she didn’t think the bill would interfere with any of her rights. 

And 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan said there was a line between raising children and abusing them. 

Narayan said he didn’t remember the day that he had “chosen” to be straight.

“Your sexuality is the core of your being,” he said.

First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus spoke of a gay cousin who had run off to California and came back with AIDS. Another relative prayed and tried not to be gay. 

“Just because you don’t want to see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Tyus said. “If you are having a fit because you do not want people to be gay, that ship has sailed.”

Tyus asserted that children needed some protections.

“If a child is gay, love your child, get over it and let them live their lives.”

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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