Duluth takes step toward banning conversion therapy

Duluth joins Minneapolis in outlawing attempts to turn queer youth straight or trans youth cis, and city leaders hope the state legislature is watching.

Duluth joins Minneapolis in outlawing attempts to turn queer youth straight or trans youth cis, and city leaders hope the state legislature is watching. Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

One by one, Minnesota’s cities are doing what the state couldn’t: outlawing conversion therapy.

"Conversion," a vague umbrella term for any practice attempting to turn queer people straight or trans people cis, has been roundly dismissed by the medical and psychological community as pseudoscience, not only ineffective but downright harmful. Nonetheless, an attempt to outlaw its use on youth and vulnerable adults stumbled during this year's legisatlve session in Minnesota’s Republican-controlled Senate.

Ever since, Minnesota’s cities have been moving forward with their own municipal bans. Minneapolis outlawed conversion therapy in November, and members of the St. Paul City Council have expressed support for a ban in the capital city. Now it's greater Minnesota's turn: On Monday night, the Duluth City Council read the first version of a proposed conversion therapy ban of its own.

Duluth has historically been ahead of the curve when it comes to LGBTQ issues, and this year, the Human Rights Campaign gave it a solid 86 out of 100 points for the city’s efforts to protect queer and trans rights. That’s the third highest ranking in the state after Minneapolis and St. Paul, which both got 100s. The next highest contender was Rochester at 64.

Duluth also has the leadership of City Council member Gary Anderson, who got started in politics while advocating for giving queer folks the right to marry. As the Star Tribune reported, he tied the knot with his husband in 2013, not long after the state finally legalized same-sex marriage. He knows what it’s like to have to wait for rights and protections everyone else already has.

“I have family members along with myself who identify as LGBT, so it’s really personal,” he says. The failure of the ban at the state level had an “immediate” effect on Anderson, but the Duluth community “rallied,” he says, and asked him to take the lead at the city level.

These bans have a broader audience than the citizens of Minneapolis or Duluth. Every law that passes on the municipal level is another black eye on the Legislature—and another incentive to get its act together for next session.

“It will be a powerful message,” Anderson says.

A second reading and the full council vote are expected to take place on Monday, December 16, and the ban would become law one month after—a fine way, Anderson says, to start the new year.

Aside from St. Paul, Jesus Lucero with OutFront Minnesota says, the suburbs are next, with officials in Apple Valley, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley, and other cities discussing their own resolutions, if not outright bans.

Superior joined other Wisconsin cities in banning the practice, and the American Medical Association has urged for the practice be outlawed nationwide. According to a 2019 national poll by Ipsos and Reuters, more than half of all Americans would support a similar measure.