Wisconsin GOP looks to undo so-called ‘conversion therapy’ ban

Wisconsin Republicans planned to vote Thursday to again allow therapists, social workers and counselors to try to change their LGBTQ clients’ gender identities and sexual orientations, a practice known as conversion therapy.

A ban on conversion therapy was passed in 2020 by a state board within the Democratic governor’s administration overseeing licensing for mental health professionals. But a committee in the Republican-controlled Legislature temporarily blocked it then and was poised to do so again Thursday.

LGBTQ rights advocates have decried the scientifically discredited practice of trying to ‘convert’ LGBTQ people to heterosexuality and traditional gender expectations as harmful, citing research suggesting the practice can increase the risk of suicide and depression.

At least 20 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed conversion therapy for minors, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a pro-LGBTQ rights think tank. Wisconsin is not one of them.

An examining board in the Department of Safety and Public Standards developed the rule banning conversion therapy, drawing objections from Republican lawmakers who introduced a bill in January 2021 to strike it down. Lawmakers then placed that bill in committee for the remainder of the 2021-22 session, avoiding a veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and temporarily suspending the ban.

Evers, who signed an executive order in 2021 prohibiting the use of taxpayer money to fund youth conversion therapy, would almost have certainly vetoed the bill if it passed.

The ban was reinstated after lawmakers failed to permanently block it by the end of the last legislative session. It has been back in effect since Dec. 1, after Evers won reelection.

Mike Mikalsen, chief of staff for rules committee co-chair Sen. Steve Nass, reiterated the committee’s reasoning for suspending the ban in 2021, telling The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that the licensing board had no authority under state law for the reinstatement.

‘It’s not about the policy itself,’ Mikalsen said.

Democrats disagree. State Sen. Kelda Roys, who sits on the rules committee, said Republicans’ decision to intervene was ‘wildly out of step’ with the norms for setting professional standards.

‘It’s disappointing that the very first move the GOP is going to make this legislative session is to green-light abusive practices against children,’ Roys said.

LGBTQ rights have taken center stage in statehouses across the country since the year began. Republican lawmakers in at least 11 states have already introduced legislation to restrict access to transgender health care. Conservatives also have pushed to restrict conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

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