Wisconsin Republicans use a sneaky legislative move to keep conversion therapy legal

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Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have used a sneaky legislative maneuver this week to continue to prevent a ban on conversion therapy from going into effect.

At issue is a rule put in place by the state’s Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board that blocks mental health professionals from trying to turn LGBTQ+ minors straight and cis with a form of psychological torture known as conversion therapy.

The Republican-controlled Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules temporarily suspended the board’s conversion therapy ban in January.

Yesterday, Republicans brought a bill to the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly that would have stopped the board from banning conversion therapy. But instead of passing it, Republicans voted 61-35 to send it to a committee.

They were worried that if it passed, it would get vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the temporary suspension passed by the joint committee would be revoked. So by keeping the bill in limbo, they can keep the temporary suspension in place until the end of the legislative session in 2024 and possibly use the same maneuver in 2025.

Earlier this year, state Rep. Adam Neylon (R) said that he doesn’t believe that the board has the power to ban conversion therapy.

Marc Herstand, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, disagreed, telling the committee that the board has the authority to ban “conversion therapy” because it equates to unprofessional conduct that can drive patients to suicide. The ban on “conversion therapy,” he said, “is necessary to protect the mental health of children in our state.”

State Sen. Chris Larson (D), who voted with the committee’s other Democrats to keep the ban in place, accused Republicans of trying to “short-circuit the process.”

“I don’t think that this is the role of this committee, nor the Legislature, to micromanage what we think is professional conduct for people who want to engage in something so vile and so detestable as to try, under the guise of professionalism, to bully our youth and bully other people by just saying that you need to you need to pray the gay away,” he said.

Major health and mental health organizations, including the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, and the American Psychological Association, oppose the practice of “conversion therapy.” According to LGBTQ+ rights organization Movement Advancement Project, 20 states and the District of Columbia have all banned the practice on minors.

Last June, President Joe Biden issued an executive order instructing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue rules that ban the use of federal funds for programs that offer conversion therapy and to increase public awareness about the harms of conversion therapy.

Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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