DULUTH – The City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a conversion therapy ban, making Duluth the second city in Minnesota to prohibit counseling that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
A few dozen people gathered on the steps of City Hall ahead of Monday’s meeting, some dressed in rainbow garb and carrying colorful signs urging local lawmakers to act. Among them was Mark Hakes, a gay Catholic youth minister who found himself in conversion therapy after he attempted suicide in high school.
“Something that was supposed to help me instead only added to my self-hatred, reinforcing the false narrative that I was flawed and needed to change,” Hakes, who now serves on Duluth’s Human Rights Commission, told the crowd.
Duluth’s policy aims “to protect the physical and psychological well-being of minors” by making it unlawful to provide conversion therapy to those under 18. Members of the clergy and other religious counselors are not subject to the law.
The practice, which has been widely discredited by mental health professionals, will be treated like a public nuisance that citizens will be able to report to the police, city clerk or human rights officer. Those found in violation of the ordinance could be charged a fine.
Council Member Gary Anderson, who co-sponsored the ordinance with Council President Noah Hobbs, called on his fellow officials to stand up for today’s LGBT youth so that they won’t fear for their lives, as he said he did at times growing up gay in northeastern Minnesota.
“I’ve squirmed in my skin listening to words of people and systems throughout the decades of my life,” he said.
Four residents spoke out against the ordinance during the meeting’s public comments section, arguing it violates freedoms of religion and speech, and warning of potential legal challenges like those some cities with similar bans have faced.
“An individual municipality has no business dictating which of a client’s counseling goals are permissible and which are not,” resident Dan Walch said.
More than a dozen supporters stood at the council podium and shared their stories and experiences as LGBT community members, including 16-year-old Izzy Laderman, who identified herself as queer.
“This therapy is not even a therapy. That has been proven over and over again by many a different organization,” she said. “It teaches kids like me to hate ourselves when most of us are already struggling with our identities on our own.”
Local governments have taken up the issue after efforts to institute a statewide ban failed in the Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate last spring. Activists hope city bans like Duluth’s will pressure state legislators to revisit the matter in the upcoming session.
State Reps. Liz Olson and Jennifer Schultz, both Democrats representing Duluth, pledged their continued support of state-level action at the rally before Monday’s council vote. But with state elections on the horizon, Schultz warned Democrats’ best shot at passing a measure may be taking control of the Senate in 2020.
In the meantime, Duluth’s policy will take effect in 30 days. After an hour of testimony, and eight ringing “ayes,” the council chamber broke into applause.
- Katie Galioto