HUNTINGTON — If passed at a future Huntington City Council meeting, conversion therapy for minors could be illegal in Huntington.
An ordinance banning the practice, discredited by major medical and mental health organizations, is making its way into meetings. Council Chair Holly Smith Mount said she introduced the order after attending a Fairness West Virginia meeting.
The city council’s diversity committee considered the ordinance at its meeting on Monday evening. Committee members are General Councilors Bob Bailey and DuRon Jackson and Council Members Dale Anderson, Teresa Johnson and Tia Rumbaugh.
In a 4-1 vote, the committee forwarded the resolution to an upcoming meeting of city council.
What is conversion therapy?
GLAAD, or the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, says conversion therapy is “any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” According to sources on the organization’s website, the practice is harmful to LGBTQ+ youth and often leads to a higher risk of suicide, self-harm, substance abuse and depression.
The proposed local ordinance legally defines conversion therapy in the existing section as “any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or expressions of gender or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards persons of the same sex”.
Mount attended the committee meeting on Monday and briefed the committee on the prescription, its creation and conversion therapy.
Before attending a Fairness West Virginia board meeting held in Huntington in April, Mount said Wednesday she didn’t know much about conversion therapy. Since then, she said she has learned more information by researching peer-reviewed studies and data.
Among the reasons for enacting the order, Mount said major medical and mental health associations have denounced conversion therapy. These include the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Conversion therapy is very, very dangerous,” Mount said. “It’s inefficient. And there are other states and municipalities that are already making the same effort that we are making right now.
Mount knows residents who received conversion therapy while underage, she said.
The prescription discussion can also be an opportunity to educate the public on how to navigate conversations with their child, Mount said.
Being a member of the LGBTQ+ population is not something that needs to be changed, Mount added.
“I think what I’m hoping this will change is that I’m hoping this will bring us … one step closer to broad inclusion and acceptance,” Mount said. “I think the more we learn and come to understand each other, the more harmonious our community could be.”
The city already has a compliant filing process through the Human Relations Commission. It would add conversion therapy to the non-discrimination order, Mount said.
She added that the proposed ordinance does not regulate the conversions families have in their homes or prevent them from seeking a religious leader.
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, said conversion therapy “is a very serious issue that we face and one that affects many vulnerable children.” He said the practice amounts to medical malpractice and child abuse. Conversion therapy often takes place underground.
“It puts these vulnerable kids in an impossible situation where they feel like they have to change something that can’t be changed and so they become desperate,” Schneider said.
Conversion therapy is not therapy that seeks to support someone who is struggling to understand their identity.
He’s trying to change someone’s identity.
Fairness West Virginia worked to get the West Virginia Legislature to pass a bill banning conversion therapy and it has bipartisan support, but no vote was taken on a bill. Schneider said that’s why the organization has looked to municipalities to pass local laws.
The ordinance has nothing to do with parental autonomy and it allows religious leaders to practice as they see fit, Schneider said.
Diversity committee meeting
At the end of the committee meeting, Bailey, Jackson, Johnson, and Rumbaugh voted to forward the ordinance to a future meeting of city council. Anderson was the only dissenting vote.
Johnson expressed concerns at the meeting about the order. She said she felt the committee was talking about several issues.
“Are we saying a parent takes a child to a therapist, his therapist can’t tell that child about anything? … I’m not going to make it a single topic because that’s not it for me,” she said.
She said Wednesday that she felt the same about the order as she did when the committee met.
“The city council is busy. I know that here in my community of Fairfield, I stay quite busy. And I believe doctors and therapists, chiropractors, all went to school for their professional work and for the city council to say what they can or cannot do when a parent who is worried about …their kid took them to a doctor, for us and make a rule that they can’t talk to them about how – I’ll call it navigating life – I think the city council is busy enough that we don’t even have to.
Asked if she could support the order at a future meeting if it were changed or if clarification was added, Johnson said she doubted she could because “we’re dealing with parents and their decision to take their children to the doctor”.
During the committee meeting, Anderson asked about parents seeking conversion therapy and seeking it for their child. Assistant City Attorney Ericka Hernandez responded that the parents’ mental health professionals could not provide conversion therapy to the children under the order. He did not return requests for comment.
Rumbaugh said Friday she plans to vote in favor of the ordinance when it reaches a second reading at a future city council meeting.
She said while it doesn’t go far enough to ban the practice, it will hold professionals to higher standards and it’s a well-written order.
“I want to be part of the culture change of our community and our medical professionals to recognize that they can’t hurt our children. They need to provide supportive therapeutic services to help that child understand what they need to understand. But they can’t come in and say, “You’re wrong. You are an abomination. You must comply with this organic standard.
Jackson said Wednesday he wanted to do more research and talk with others about the prescription. He voted to send the ordinance to a future council meeting so that other council members can give their input.
“By passing on, I think it gives us the opportunity to do more research and to have these conversations and to make sure that we’re making our decisions based on the right information and that we’re knowledgeable in certain areas and that we are able to learn and grow on our own,” he said. said.
Bailey offered to follow the order through the process so that all council members have an opportunity to voice their opinions, he said.
“It needs to go to the full council and hear everyone’s opinion on it for the final vote. And that’s why I offered to send it to the council for the final vote. I thought everyone should have a chance to (vote) because there were a few against and a few for and it probably would have been a tie vote.
Response to conversion therapy
Conversion therapy and bans on the practice are in the national spotlight. President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Wednesday aimed at countering what his administration calls legislative attacks and discourages conversion therapy, the Associated Press reported.
If passed, Huntington will be the fourth city in West Virginia to ban conversion therapy. The first was Charleston in 2021, followed by Morgantown and Wheeling. Schneider said no challenges have been presented regarding the bans in those cities.
Mount said the ordinance will go to first reading at city council on June 27. Public comments can be given during the second reading, which will take place on July 11 for this ordinance. After a second reading, the city council can vote on the proposal.
McKenna Horsley is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering local government in Huntington and Cabell County. Follow her on Twitter @Mckennahorsley.
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