During a hearing at City Hall Thursday, aldermen and community members pushed for Milwaukee to take the first step toward eliminating conversion therapy. The practice – also referred to reparative therapy – includes a range of tactics meant to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Milwaukee Alderman Cavalier Johnson co-sponsored the bill to make the practice illegal in Milwaukee. Wisconsin is among 41 states that do not have laws banning so-called conversion therapy.
He spoke before the Public Safety and Health Committee, arguing that there’s no credible evidence to suggest the strategies work. Rather, Johnson said, there is evidence that shows the damage that can be done, especially to youth.
“There is an abundance of evidence showing that conversion therapy poses critical health risks to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, LGBTQ, youth including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, and even suicidality,” Johnson said.
Representatives of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center joined Alderman Johnson to address the committee.
Shelley Gregory, the center’s transgender resource coordinator, said there is no place in Milwaukee for the so-called therapeutic practices.
“Our federal government released the unqualified statement in 2015 that same gender sexual identity behavior and attraction, or transgender identities and diverse gender expressions do not constitute mental disorders. Conversion therapy practices, however, are grounded in the false, un-evidenced based premise that identifying as LGBTQ does constitute mental health condition. A premise that has been rejected by all… all major medical and mental health in the country,” Gregory said.
Another representative of the LGBT Community Center, Natalie Zanoni, read a first-hand account of a 29-year-old Milwaukee man who had been through conversion therapy when he was 17.
Zanoni is the center's director of client and program services.
Despite citing evidence of the pitfalls of conversion therapy, and reasons it should be illegal, the speakers could not say how common the practice may be in Milwaukee.
The LGBT center says it's hard to collect that data, because people who've been "treated" might be reluctant to share their stories.
The arguments backing the ordinance to ban conversion therapy failed to win over the chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee, Alderman Bob Donovan. He says it's not because he doesn't support the LGBT community.
“I sort of consider it an overreach into very, very personal family matters. And also, religious matters that even though I disagree with someone’s belief, they have the right, in my opinion to believe it. I’m just not necessarily comfortable with government, local government, engaging and stepping into this,” he said.
Both Alderman Donovan and Alderman Mark Borkowski abstained from voting.
The committee did approve the measure and it’s headed to the full council.