Prairie Village could soon be second Johnson County city to ban conversion therapy

conversion therapy

Following a vote by the city council committee of the whole Monday, the city of Prairie Village will draft a conversion therapy ban ordinance, similar to the one Roeland Park approved in 2020. Photo credit Ted Eytan. Used under a Creative Commons license.

The city of Prairie Village could soon follow in Roeland Park’s footsteps and become the second Johnson County city with an official ban on conversion therapy.

Brian Shapley, a board member of LGBT advocacy group Equality Kansas, on Monday gave the city council committee of the whole a presentation discussing a potential conversion therapy ban.

Shapley said research shows conversion therapy does not work and is harmful to LGBTQ+ youth’s mental health.

Shapley said Equality Kansas knows, via the Midwest Rainbow Research Institute, that rates for suicidal thoughts and attempts among LGBTQ+ youth fall to lower than that of the standard teenager when in “an accepting and loving” community or family.

“We as a community have an absolute power over these numbers and keeping them out of the scary range,” Shapley said.

No known practitioners in Prairie Village

Conversion therapy defines a number of practices that attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

Major medical groups have rejected conversion therapy, and nearly 20 states, along with dozens of cities, have passed official bans on the practice.

In Roeland Park’s discussion last year about its own conversion therapy ban, LGBTQ advocates and survivors spoke of the dangers conversion therapy posed to children’s long-term mental health and family relationships.

While there are no known licensed psychiatrists or practitioners offering conversion therapy in Prairie Village, Shapley said the city would be sending a message to the “large number of [conversion therapy] survivors” living in the area.

The proposed ordinance would only limit conversion therapy that is being paid for and conducted by a licensed practitioner and would not ban the practice from happening as part of private religious services or through unlicensed sessions.

In a response from Councilmember Sheila Myers about the distinction made for religious services, City Attorney David Waters said the city government cannot regulate religious practices under the First Amendment.

More council discussion

Councilmember Dan Runion asked to put parameters on legal fees associated with putting together an ordinance on a conversion therapy ban.

Runion said he would not support moving the ordinance forward not because he doesn’t believe in it but because he “strongly believes” in being financial stewards for the city.

Others, like Councilmember Chad Herring, said there’s a basic cost to governing and the drafting of ordinances.

Herring said while he thinks the city council needs to be cautious about legal spending, the conversion therapy ban is about taking LGBTQ+ youth’s health and safety seriously.

“When I hear questions about cost come up about some of these things, I worry that our LGBTQIA youth wonder if they’re worth the cost of the ordinance preparation — and they absolutely are, I think we all think so,” Herring said. “I think the question is more abstract than that.”

The city council heard from one resident, Heather Noble, who is also a licensed psychologist in Kansas and Missouri. Noble asked the city to support the conversion therapy ban, as she’s worked with adults who participated in it as children.

Noble said she’s come to find, in her 20-year career, that conversion therapy “including increased depression, anxiety and substance use.”

“The ethical guidelines of my profession oppose conversion and reparative methods,” Noble said. “Some of the most fulfilling — but also haunting — work as a psychologist has involved adults who in their younger years participated in conversion therapy. They were working to heal from their experiences and the ways in which it had harmed them.”

The council committee of the whole agreed to move the proposal forward by a 10-2 vote, with Councilmembers Runion and Sheila Myers in opposition.

That directs city staff to draft an ordinance based on Roeland Park’s ban, which went into effect last year.