Wisconsin Republicans Once Again Block Ban On Conversion Therapy
Wisconsin Republicans block ban on conversion therapy. They voted to allow therapists, social workers, and counselors to attempt to change the gender identities and sexual orientations of LGBTQ clients, a discredited practice known as conversion therapy.
This legislation has blocked a rule that would have banned the harmful practice of so-called conversion therapy in the state for the second time in two years, claiming that the board issuing the rule had overstepped its authority.
Wisconsin Republicans block 'conversion therapy' ban
In 2020, the state board within the Democratic governor's administration that oversees licensing for mental healthprofessionals voted to outlaw conversion therapy. The ban was temporarily blocked by a committee in the Republican-controlled Legislature on both occasions; on Thursday, all six Republicans on the committee voted to block it, while all four Democrats voted to keep it in place.
"Converting" LGBTQ people to heterosexuality and traditional gender expectations has been decried as harmful by advocates for LGBTQ rights, who point to studies showing that doing so can increase the risk of suicide and depression.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, a pro-LGBTQ rights think tank, at least 20 states and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy for minors. Not even close to Wisconsin.
Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the rule prohibiting conversion therapy, which was developed by an examining board in the Department of Safety and Public Standards, and introduced a bill in January 2021 to overturn the regulation. To prevent Democratic Governor Tony Evers from vetoing it, lawmakers have temporarily suspended the ban by sending the bill to committee for the rest of the 2021-22 session.
Since Evers issued an executive order in 2021 banning the use of public funds to support adolescent conversion therapy, it is quite likely that he would have vetoed the measure had it been presented to him.
After legislators failed to permanently prohibit the ban before the conclusion of the last parliamentary session, it was revived. Since December 1, with Evers's reelection, it has been back in effect.
Mike Mikalsen, director of staff for rules committee co-chair state Sen. Steve Nass, reaffirmed the committee's rationale for suspending the prohibition in 2021 in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, stating that the licensing board has no legal power to resume the restriction.
It’s disappointing that the very first move the GOP is going to make this legislative session is to green-light abusive practices against children.- Kelda Roys, State Senator
Since the new year started, LGBTQ rights have been at the forefront of debates in state legislatures around the nation. At least eleven states have Republican legislators who have submitted bills to limit transgender people's ability to get the healthcare they need. Conservatives have also fought to limit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The second co-chair of the committee, State Representative Adam Neylon, opened the public hearing that preceded the vote by accusing the DSPS examining board of overreaching its authority and dictating public policy by prohibiting conversion therapy. The morality and ethics of conversion treatment are irrelevant, he said; just that specific question remains.
According to Marc Herstand, executive director of the Wisconsin branch of the National Association of Social Workers, conversion therapy is unethical and may lead patients to suicide, thus the board has every right to outlaw it.
Given that none of the legislators on the committee are social workers or therapists, Roys urged them to leave the matter alone. Roys argued that the state legislature lacked the authority to define "professional behavior" in a regulated sector.
Counselors, social workers, and therapists had their free speech rights violated, according to Wisconsin Family Action president Julianne Appling. She argued that people's livelihoods should not be put in jeopardy because they exercised their rights to free speech, religious practice, and assembly.
A 19-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire named Matthew Lehner testified before the committee that he is a member of the LGBTQ community and that he is disgusted that lawmakers are even considering allowing conversion therapy, which he called torture and a violation of human rights.
I am outraged and sick to my stomach that a proposal such as this would even be considered in the year 2023. However, given how the Republican majority has waged war on bodily autonomy, climate science, and queer people over their years of gerrymandered reign, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.- Matthew Lehner, Student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Local bans on conversion therapy have been passed in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, Cudahy, Shorewood, Racine, Sheboygan, Superior, Glendale, Appleton, West Allis, Kenosha, and Sun Prairie, but a statewide ban on the treatment is dead for the time being.