A controversial therapy intended to change a person’s sexual orientation as a means to treat gay youth is now officially banned in Kenosha.
The City Council voted 14-1 Monday night approved ordinance outlawing the practice known as “conversion therapy” on anyone under the age of 18 for compensation of such services. The ordinance also makes it illegal for anyone to “knowingly assist or facilitate” providing conversion therapy to youth for payment of the services.
Violators face fines of up to $1,000, plus the cost prosecution and assessments, among other fees and 90 days in the Kenosha County Jail. The court may also suspend driving privileges for up to five years until costs are paid.
The city joins 10 other cities in Wisconsin, including Racine, Milwaukee, Madison, Cudahy, Shorewood, Eau Claire, Sheboygan, Superior, Glendale and Appleton, which have similar ordinances banning the practice. Conversion therapy is also banned in 20 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
“I went through conversion therapy twice in my life. Once as a youth and once as an adult,” said Krish Colon, 34, of Kenosha. “As someone who has gone through this and who has since struggled getting out of this … it is extremely difficult.
“There’s a reason why folks in the LGBTQ community are eight times more likely to have attempted suicide. It’s because of these kinds of things,” he said.
As a youth, Colon said he experienced incessant ideations of suicide because of conversion therapy. The therapy seeks to change another individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including the elimination of sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender. In its extreme form, practitioners administer shock treatment. Many medical and mental health organizations have roundly denounced it practice as extremely damaging to youth and young adults.
“It was some of the darkest times in my life. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t want to hurt myself or to just leave the earth — because it was just too much,” he said. “I tried literally everything. I went through the groups. I went through the camps. Everything short of shock therapy.
“I was told that this was what I should be doing. I didn’t know any better,” he said.
Colon said he continues to work through and process what he went through.
“I’m urging you guys please. Please don’t put anyone in this community through this,” he said. “It is darkness like you couldn’t imagine. It is a kind of torture…I’ve seen the most loving and full of life people turn into dark, depressed individuals who ended up attempting suicide.”
Medical organizations back bill
Carl Hubbard, of Racine, board president of the LGBT Center of Southeast Wisconsin, called on the council to support the ordinance. Hubbard submitted the names of nearly a dozen medical and mental health professional organizations that have opposed conversion therapy and the harm it causes to the mental health of LGBTQ youth and young adults.
Organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, the American medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, among them, that have condemned the practice as “damaging and ineffective.”
While he noted that adults who choose to undergo the therapy would not be covered by the ordinance he urged the council ban its use on youth.
Barb Farrar, of Racine, executive director of the LGBT center, said she has heard the stories of several members who have gone through conversion therapy.
“Many times, it was against their will by a parent or a pastor. (They were) sent to a camp to basically be fixed,” Farrar said. “That intent basically damaged people for life. They experience trauma most of their life and extremely difficult to navigate life after having gone through this.”
Ald. Dave Paff, who voted against the ordinance, said it wasn’t because he wasn’t empathetic for people in the situation.
“I’ve not heard any medical experts here, tonight, talk on this,” he said. “I’m sure this may work at times. So, in support of those individuals, I’ll be voting against it.”
Ald. Jack Rose, president of the National Alliance for Mental Illness Kenosha County agency, said NAMI also opposes conversion therapy.
“This is not a recognized type of therapy,” he said.
Ald. Jan Michalski, noted that during his time involved in the local theater scene, his discussions with gay friends often centered on conversion therapy.
“They all believe that conversion therapy is not only bogus, but barbaric,” said Michalski.
Kennedy notes Paff’s concerns
Ald. Anthony Kennedy, who sponsored the ordinance, said he had thought he had Paff’s support and apologized for misunderstanding that he needed more to go on. Kennedy continued the ordinance’s sponsorship on behalf of then Ald. Stephanie Kemp, who originally proposed it a year ago. Kemp was defeated in the spring election, but returned to speak in favor of its passage.
Kennedy said he would have made arrangements for medical or psychiatric experts to testify had he known Paff wanted to hear from them in person.
“If your reason for voting against this is because there wasn’t anyone to testify on a medical basis, I want to apologize for disappointing you and really misunderstanding our conversation,” he said.
Paff said he was very “accepting of the conversation” but would’ve expected someone from a behavioral health or medical profession to comment.