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Linn County supervisors ban conversion therapy
Ban applies only to rural areas; Davenport has only other ban in Iowa
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Board of Supervisors banned “conversion therapy” on Monday, becoming the second governmental entity in Iowa to enact a ban.
The measure applies only to the unincorporated areas of the county, but supporters said they hope the county’s cities will pass their own bans.
The supervisors voted 2-1 to prohibit “any efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity with minors, including conversion and reparative therapy.” Supervisors Ben Rogers and Stacey Walker, both Democrats, voted in favor, with Supervisor Louie Zumbach, a Republican, opposed.
In Iowa, only the city of Davenport has banned conversion therapy. Across the country, about 100 municipalities and 19 states have banned it, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Rogers said the issue is an example of the board exerting local control due to home rule, which allows local governments to operate in any lane that state or federal governments don’t occupy.
“If you do any research on this, the fact it’s called therapy — it’s not therapy,” Rogers said. “I do think it’s dangerous.”
Conversion therapy is a widely debunked practice of trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of an LGBTQ person into a straight man or woman.
The American Psychiatric Association and other accredited psychological organizations have opposed conversion therapy since the 1990s.
“No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed,” the association said in a statement in 2021.
The therapies — also call reparative therapy or spiritual therapy — have been known to cause anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and suicide deaths. A 2022 study done by The Trevor Project found that 6 percent of LGBTQ youths have been subjected to conversion therapy and 10 percent have been threatened with it by a family member or guardian.
Rogers said last week is unaware of anyone practicing the therapy in the county, and the ordinance’s purpose is to ensure that continues to be the case.
Zumbach last week argued the issue didn’t come from local residents. Walker said the issue came to his attention from Iowa Safe Schools, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group.
Iowa Safe Schools representatives on Monday said the issue was brought to their attention by local students, including LGBTQ groups in the Linn-Mar school district in Marion.
“We support LGBT youth in all 99 counties,” Iowa Safe Schools Director of Public Policy and Communication Damian Thompson said. “The students requested this ordinance, and our job is to make sure their voices are heard.”
“We’re glad to see the Linn County supervisors standing up for LGBTQ youth during Pride Month,” Becky Smith, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, said. “We’re working hard to see this barbaric practice outlawed in all 99 counties.”
Linn County residents on Monday spoke in support and opposition to the ordinance.
“Evidence from research that’s widely available show several harmful side effects for conversion therapy,” said Drew Martel, Foundation 2 director of crisis services. “These interventions are harmful, and conversion therapy should not be part of any children’s medical assistance. It does not work. It causes harm.”
Those who opposed the ordinance claimed it infringes on freedoms of speech and religion.
Randy Walker of Cedar Rapids said the ordinance would “handcuff pastors” who help those with “gender dysphoria.”
“Taking a voice away who helps counseling and support is heinous and rude,” he said. “Pastors are there to help and assist them if they’re confused.”
Brian Saunders, a Lutheran pastor, said he believes the ordinance infringes on parents’ rights.
“I work closely with pastors and teachers who have struggles with this issue,” Saunders said. “We have been able to make use of clinics where we have not tortured these people. I’m appalled at those tactics, but that’s not how we approach the issues. … The men I’ve worked with in our church body are now leading very productive and fruitful lives.”
Walker responded that those arguments are red herrings and distract from the issue itself.
“This issue is about making child abuse in the form of conversion therapy illegal,” Walker said. “Any other argument about this is a distraction.”
Zumbach said he continues to believe the issue “could end up at the state Legislature. When this comes up there, I believe … you’re not going to hear much about conversion therapy.
“The debate will be about whether the counties or cities had the right to do that, and it will be about overstepping authority. My no vote isn’t about conversion therapy. It’s strictly based on it being a state issue.”
Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that prohibits women transgender student athletes from participating in school women’s sports.
Iowa has no state law banning conversion therapy.
In 2020, Republican state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton introduced a bill that would have banned health care providers from administering conversion therapy to minors, but the ban did not extend the ban to clergy members or religious counselors. The bill did not advance in the Legislature.
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