Roeland Park City Council will consider ordinance banning conversion therapy

The Roeland Park City Council unanimously approved an ordinance banning conversion therapy for minors — the first of its kind in Kansas — on the first day of Pride Month. File photo.

The Roeland Park city council on Monday discussed the possibility of a new city ordinance that would ban conversion therapy, an effort proponents say would protect minors from “the serious harms and risks caused by” it, according to city documents.

Several LGBTQ+ rights advocates spoke in favor of the policy and described different methods and effects of so-called conversion therapy. Overland Park resident and LGBTQ+ advocate Jae Moyer said Roeland Park opened the door to a more fair Kansas when it passed its non-discrimination ordinance in 2014. Moyer said Roeland Park has the ability to lead the way once again.

“The reason to support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community regarding conversion therapy is simple,” Moyer said. “You as the city council have the power and responsibility to make sure something as harmful as conversion therapy is discontinued as soon as possible, and never practiced again in Roeland Park.”

Moyer noted that there are no known businesses or organizations openly practicing conversion therapy in the city at present. Still, he said, the ban would ensure no one will use it in Roeland Park.

Mathew Shurka, a representative from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, spoke on his own experiences with conversion therapy from the ages of 16 to 21. He wasn’t allowed to speak to his mother or older sisters for the first three years, because the conversion therapists said his sexuality was a result of too many female role models, he said.

Rep. Susan Ruiz said conversion therapy side effects include increased self-hatred and substance abuse, confusion, shame and guilt. File photo.

Rep. Susan Ruiz, who is also a clinically licensed social worker, said conversion therapy is sometimes referred to as reparative therapy. Either way, she said the side effects of conversion therapy seen in children can be similar to those seen in individuals held captive in war, including increased self-hatred and substance abuse.

Ruiz has made efforts to address the issue at the state level. But she said the bills she introduces in the Committee on Children and Seniors that would ban conversion therapy end up dying in the Health and Human Services Committee.

“By bringing this ordinance to a vote you could be sending a loud message to the residents of Roeland Park, and especially the children of Roeland Park, that you value them and will do anything possible to keep them safe,” Ruiz said.

Councilmembers Tom Madigan, Jan Faidley and Benjamin Dickens brought conversion therapy forward as a topic of discussion, and included a draft ordinance. The draft contains language similar to the conversion therapy ban passed by Kansas City, Missouri, in 2019.

Dickens described his how experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, noting that he had a family that was supportive and never tried to make him change who he was. But, he said, he knows that is not the case for every LGBTQ+ minor. The ban on conversion therapy, or reparative therapy, would be a “big step toward that goal of always protecting children” who rely on the city council to make decisions and ensure their safety, he said.

“Whatever name it goes by, [conversion therapy] is a psychological torture,” Dickens said.

The city council agreed to move the ordinance to the next city council meeting, June 1, for a final vote. The draft ordinance can be found in city documents here.