Kansas City took a step Wednesday toward becoming the second city in Missouri to ban conversion therapy for minors following more than an hour of emotional testimony from a packed room of LGBTQ residents and advocates.
Conversion therapy, often associated with religious groups, is intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Last month, Columbia banned the practice for minors.
Critics, including LGBTQ groups and leading medical and mental health professional associations, contend it’s not effective and is often dangerous. More than half of young people who have been through conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt in the last year, according to a survey by the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.
“It makes you believe that you are unworthy of existence,” said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy for the Trevor Project, who went through conversion therapy. “The very idea that a flip can be switched and we are no longer LGBTQ is a lie.”
Brinton said they wished someone had been able to help.
“This hurt me and it needs to stop,” Brinton said.
The council’s Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously with little debate to approve the ordinance, which was introduced by Mayor Quinton Lucas. The full council could vote on the issue as soon as Nov. 14.
Lucas, who announced on Twitter last month that he would pursue the proposal, said he took notice of Columbia’s decision to ban the practice.
“I find it to be interesting, progressive and helpful legislation that could keep people from harm,” Lucas said. “And so I thought it was important that our office take the lead on that as well.”
Proponents recounted personal stories of extreme methods of therapy and suicidal thoughts. Zachary Mallory said he went through conversion therapy at his church, where the pastor would show images of sexual acts and use shock therapy if Mallory became aroused.
“Conversion therapy was one of the … darkest times of my life, and every night, I still deal with waking up from nightmares and flashbacks,” Mallory said.
Joel Barrett, a former Baptist minister, said he knew the impact of conversion therapy because he “spent his entire life being told he could be not both gay and godly.”
“I know the emotional, spiritual and psychological damage done to me as an adult,” Barrett said. “No minor should be subjected to this harmful practice.”
He said conversion therapy in his 30s was the only time he “ever seriously considered dying as a better alternative to living.”
The ordinance the committee approved would ban the practice for anyone under the age of 18, but would allow it to continue for adults. It applies to licensed providers in medical and mental health professions, including counselors, psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists and behavior analysts. It does not bar religious leaders from speaking with youth about their sexuality.
While the majority of attendees supported the ban, there was vocal opposition from several organizations.
Andrew Comiskey, who founded Desert Stream Living Waters to provide Christian-based sexual counseling, said he identified as gay as a teen but chose to pursue faith.
“My wife today is grateful. Four children later, six grandchildren later — best decision I ever made,” Comiskey said. “I believe this bill is wrong because it bans choice for persons like me. It says one way forward for vulnerable youth — that is the LGBT way and no other way.”
Dino Durando, who represents the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Jospeh, said he understood the interest in the proposal and believed that Mallory was “tortured,” but said that shock treatment was clearly already illegal because the church wasn’t qualified to administer it.
Durando said the diocese believes the proposal is “over broad in its reach” and an “inappropriate encroachment by a city’s police power into the work of professionals who are already well regulated by professional licensing standards and state law.”