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Opinion

Norman City Council bans Conversion Therapy…

7:35 AM EDT on July 1, 2021

Pride Month may have ended yesterday, but the Norman City Council introduced an ordinance that aims to bring affirmation and protection for members of the community’s LGBTQIA+ community well beyond the month of June.

On Tuesday night, present council members voted unanimously to ban the practice of “conversion therapy” within the city limits. Though the ordinance is super progressive by Oklahoma standards, unfortunately, it may be too conservative in implementation.

Via the Norman Transcript…

Conversion therapy is a practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual; it’s been called harmful and dangerous by the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ advocates and the American Psychiatric Association.

While the council previously discussed an ordinance to ban only the use of city funds for conversion therapy for minors on May 11, the Norman Human Rights Commission asked the council to take it a step further, and introduced an ordinance that carries up to a $750 fine for violators. The ordinance does not apply to churches or “unlicensed” providers, and only protects minors under the age of 18, staff noted during a presentation to council.

The dispute during public comments Tuesday argued the city was regulating from the dais an industry that is regulated by the state. There is no ban on the practice at the state level, councilors-elect Ward 3 Kelly Lynn and Ward 5 Rarchar Tortello said.

Though the intention behind the city ordinance is commendable, as the Norman Transcript article outlines, the ban on “conversion therapy” doesn’t go far enough.

For one, licensed mental health care providers in the state of Oklahoma are governed by their respective licensing boards, such as the Board of Behavioral Health or the Board of Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselors. That means that clinicians’ ethical and legal codes are set by Oklahoma State legislation. Unless lawmakers finally pass the statewide ban, the dangerous practice of “conversion therapy” likely won’t be completely deterred.

Secondly, also as the Norman Transcript article states, the ordinance does not ban unlicensed clinicians from implementing “conversion therapy” tactics. As I’ve complained about reported on before, pastoral care is a loosely-regulated practice in Oklahoma that allows practitioners to render services without a license or a state board to answer to. Maybe I’m crazy, but I have a hunch this is the group that needs the most regulation if we are going to ban “conversion therapy” in this state.

Why did I spend $20,000 on graduate school when I could’ve been practicing with my $25 Internet minster’s license the whole time?

Here’s more…

More than 100 residents showed up in support of the ban, and several urged the council to adopt the ordinance as they told of their experiences with harmful attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Resident Laurie Collins described conversion therapy as torture.

“Good parents don’t let their children be tortured and humiliated and disgraced by other people,” she said. “Studies show it doesn’t work. At best, it just prevents people from engaging in behavior temporarily….”

Mayor Breea Clark praised supporters of the ban as eloquent and courageous fighters.

“Never quit fighting,” she said. “I appreciate it. It’s what makes Norman great, and I’m so grateful for our hardworking staff who weren’t afraid to take this on … our Human Rights Commission. I know we seem like the black sheep, trouble makers … trailblazers in Norman, but people are seeing it. They see that we care about our residents. We make tough choices. I could not be prouder to be mayor of this city.”

By banning “conversion therapy,” members of the Norman City Council are continuing a fight to protect members of their community from a harmful practice. Though the ban doesn’t go far enough, it was not in vain. Setting the ordinance sets the tone for creating a community of affirmation and support for LGBTQIA+ youth.

For most Oklahoma licensed mental health clinicians, yesterday may have been the deadline to turn in their continuing education hours and renew their license to practice. But it's time our state's legislation is also renewed. By how harmful and even deadly the practice can be to clients who are subjected to it, I’m afraid a statewide ban of “conversion therapy” is way overdue.

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The idea of “conversion therapy” makes Hayley thera-pissed. Follow her on twitter @squirrellygeek and become a contributing member of TLO here.

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