3 Michigan cities ban gay conversion therapy for minors, protecting 1% of LGBTQ population

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Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

This week, Ferndale became the third city in Michigan to ban the practice of gay conversion therapy for minors.

Following in the footsteps of Huntington Woods, which banned the practice in June, and East Lansing’s ban in September, the Ferndale City Council voted unanimously to adopt the new law. 

Conversion therapy, also referred to as “reparative therapy,” is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization. 

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In a press release Monday, Ferndale city officials announced the practice is now classified as a misdemeanor. Violation of the ban is punishable up to 93 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.

The ban was initiated by City Council Member Julia Music, who serves as a community LGBTQ advocate and manages the city’s annual Ferndale Pride event.

“It’s essential for LGBTQAI people to have access to proper mental health care, and for those who are impacted by conversion therapy to access care that can start to undo the harm conversion tactics inflict,” said Music. “Council bringing up a ban on this therapy continues our mission of building safe and inclusive space for all people.”

The first city to place a ban on gay conversion therapy for minors was Huntington Woods, another suburb of Detroit. The City Council unanimously voted in favor of the ban, and it is classified as a municipal civil infraction. 

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In a divided vote, 3-2, East Lansing followed Huntington Woods in implementing this ban last month. The ordinance, introduced by Councilperson Aaron Stephens makes the practice a misdemeanor and punishable of up to 90 days in jail and up to $500 in fines. 

Council Member Ruth Beier and Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann voted against the ban on the basis of enforceability and liability. 

Beier, who is gay, suggested the ordinance include explicit verbiage that the ban is on the practice of gay conversion therapy against the patient’s will. 

If someone who is an adult wants to seek this out for themselves, we can’t stop them from doing so,” said Stephens. “But this ordinance is an added protection for LGBT minors who would have been forced through it.”

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Stephens modeled the East Lansing ordinance based on a state legislation introduced by both state Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) and Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak).

Senate Bill 284 and House Bill 4515, which would ban licensed therapists to practice conversion therapy on minors, were introduced in April, but no action has been taken. 

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow at Lansing Community College, June 4, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

“For me, from the entire state level, it sends the wrong message for the entire state of Michigan,” McMorrow said. “Young people are moving out of our state because it looks like we are unwelcoming. We don’t have explicit protections for LGBT individuals.”

Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status,” does not have any protections for sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Many bills have been introduced that would include LGBTQ protections, but none have passed the GOP-led Legislature.

With three of Michigan’s cities implementing this ban, only 1% of the state’s LGBTQ population is protected, according to data from Movement Advancement Project (MAP), an independent nonprofit think tank based in Boulder, Colo.  

States that ban gay conversion therapy | Movement Advancement Project

Nationwide, 18 states have put total bans against gay conversion therapy, and North Carolina banned the use of taxpayer dollars for the practice. MAP data shows a majority of the country’s LGBTQ population, about 53%, live in states with no laws protecting them against this type of discrimination. 

In Wisconsin, nine municipalities have banned conversion therapy, per MAP data, which protects about 19% of its LGBTQ population. Seven cities in Ohio have banned the practice, protecting about 15% of the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m encouraged that more and more municipalities are taking this up on their own,” McMorrow said. “It gives us more ammunition to bring back to our state and say, ‘Look what our locals are doing.’”

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