Wisconsin Republicans continue to protect controversial practice of conversion therapy
Republican state lawmakers have allowed the controversial practice of conversion therapy to continue in Wisconsin through a procedural move in the legislature. Democrats say Wednesday's action puts the LGBTQ community at risk of harm.
Three years ago, a state mental health professionals licensing board passed a rule to prevent therapists, social workers and counselors from using conversion therapy. The discredited practice is aimed at changing the gender identity, sexual orientation, and same-gender romantic attraction or feelings of LGBTQ clients.
Two months ago, a GOP-controlled legislative committee blocked the ban a second time. Wednesday the Republican-dominated State Senate had before it
The bill has never had a hearing and Democrats got wind that the Senate just planned to send the measure to committee, where it might sit for the next two years. That means Gov. Tony Evers (D) couldn't veto the bill and conversion therapy would be allowed during that time — except where cities have banned it.
At a news conference prior to the session, Sen. Mark Spreitzer (D- Beloit) discussed his opposition to conversion therapy.
"As a gay man myself, I was fortunate to be raised in a supportive environment, where I could figure out my sexual orientation. Nobody ever tried to send me to therapy to keep me from being gay. But not every gay, lesbian, bi, or trans kid is so lucky. And even well-meaning parents could accidentally send their kid to a therapist, who instead of helping them, could try to stop them from being themselves, and do lasting harm," Spreitzer said.
On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Melissa Agard, (D-Madison) said allowing conversion therapy to continue adds to Wisconsin's image of being intolerant —an image, she says, hurts the business community.
"It's particularly bad if you're trying to retain and recruit minorities and members of a large millennial generation, who see themselves as open-minded. Reinstating conversion therapy is not going to make businesses more prosperous. It's not going to make our communities stronger. It's not going to build our economy," Agard said.
After Republicans proposed sending the conversion therapy bill to the same administrative rules committee that had blocked the ban, Democratic Sen. Tim Carpenter moved that the measure instead be sent to the Senate's Mental Health Committee, which the Milwaukee lawmaker said has more background on the therapy issue.
Carpenter also discussed his concerns about conversion therapy:
"Trust me, your chances of putting me in conversion therapy, and changing me being gay, you have a better chance of putting me in therapy to be the leading Green Bay Packers quarterback. It ain't going to happen," Carpenter said.
But then, the Senate, on party line votes rejected Carpenter's proposed amendment, and sent the conversion therapy bill to the rules committee. The GOP co-chairs of that panel either didn't respond to WUWM's request for comment or said there would no statement on the "procedural action."
We also didn't hear back from the conservative group, Wisconsin Family Action. In January, group President Julaine Appling testified before the rules committee that banning conversion therapy deprived counselors and therapists from their right to freedom of speech.
"Their not being able to warn people about what can happen as a result of acting on their attraction or confusion is irresponsible at best," Appling said.
In a press release late Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said prohibitions on discussing or advocating certain theories have to be done "through the elected branches of state government and not some unaccountable members of an activist licensing board."
During Wednesday's votes, Milwaukee Democrat Carpenter said he was embarrassed to be part of the Senate.
Editor's Note: A portion of the audio was provided by Wisconsin Eye.