When Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham first walked into his office last year, conversion therapy was one of the issues he was determined to tackle.
It’s gone by a lot of names and been shoehorned into increasingly vague definitions, but its crux is the belief that queerness or transness is something that can be fixed or removed, like a tumor. There’s no evidence suggesting that’s actually true, but there’s plenty showing the idea's harmful effects, especially on the young.
Cunningham is one of two trans people on the council. He was exposed to the therapy in church while growing up.
“It tries to convince people that they are not who they are,” he told KARE-TV. He believes that kind of “torture” has no place in Minneapolis. But he held off, hoping for a measure to ban the practice statewide—at least on youth and vulnerable adults—meandering its way through the Legislature. It would have been a better solution if Minnesota passed a ban. Eighteen other states already have.
Cunningham and others were about to be bitterly disappointed. The amendment, championed by Rep. Hunter Cantrell (D-Savage) and Sen. Scott Dibble (D-Minneapolis) sputtered and died in the Republican-controlled Senate. Several Republican senators confessed to having felt sickened after voting against it, but what was done was done.
“I was really disappointed that the GOP put politics over people, especially when those people were kids,” Cunningham said.
So he teamed with queer activism group OutFront Minnesota. On Friday, National Coming Out Day, he and several other council members from Minneapolis and St. Paul met on the Lake Street-Marshall Bridge and announced their plan. If they couldn’t ban conversion therapy on the state level, they could at least do it locally.
His Minneapolis colleague, Council Member Andrea Jenkins, was there—as were St. Paul City Council Members Mitra Jalali Nelson and Amy Brendmoen.
Their first task is to get feedback from community members on what precisely this ban should look like. Cunningham says about 1,000 residents have already provided some. Minneapolis could see a public hearing on the subject as early as November. OutFront Executive Director Monica Meyer says other cities are planning similar bans.
Cunningham feels confident. But municipal movements like these are not without opposition. The Minnesota Family Council—a conservative Christian organization that considers "breasts" to be a harmful side effect of hormone treatments—called the move an "attack on free speech" and "an intrusion on counselor-client relationships."
They're also not without risk. As MPR reported last month, the New York City Council repealed its ban two years after it passed. A Christian legal organization filed suit, and city officials were terrified it might reach the Trump administration’s increasingly conservative Supreme Court. A decision handed down from that level would be much harder to undo.
But the alternative is doing nothing, which Cunningham can’t—“won’t”—accept.