Metro Weekly

Richmond City Council passes non-binding resolution condemning conversion therapy

Council's unanimous passage signals support for General Assembly efforts to ban the practice on minors

Members of the Richmond City Council – Photo: Facebook.

The Richmond City Council has passed a non-binding resolution condemning the use of conversion therapy both within the city limits and across the commonwealth of Virginia.

The resolution, which was approved unanimously, is the first of its kind in Virginia, condemning the practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Because Virginia is a Dillon’s Rule state, local municipalities do not have the power to usurp the power granted to the state’s General Assembly by the Virginia Constitution. As such, municipalities may not take actions by themselves that go beyond the limits of laws passed by the legislative branch. For example, some localities have attempted to pass local ordinances protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, but have been blocked from implementing or enforcing such ordinances because the Code of Virginia does not recognize legal protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.

As a result, the Richmond City Council’s resolution is largely symbolic, serving more as a message to lawmakers in the General Assembly that Richmond’s elected officials support attempts to prohibit the practice of conversion therapy on minors.

Supporters of conversion therapy bans point to evidence showing that being subjected to sexual orientation change efforts may result in negative mental health outcomes, including higher rates of depression, substance abuse, homelessness, and suicidal ideation. They also note that most mainstream medical and mental health associations have condemned the practice or denounced it as ineffective.

In recent years, Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills seeking to ban the practice on minors, but those bills have been tabled and defeated in the Republican-run House of Delegates and Senate. The commonwealth’s Boards of Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work approved guidance earlier this year advising licensed mental health professionals not to engage in the practice, and began developing regulations that would penalize those who engage in that type of therapy.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who proposed the resolution, praised his fellow council members for passing it, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“I am proud that members of Richmond’s City Council joined me in opposing the inhumane and regressive practice of conversion therapy and affirming the sexual orientation and identities of all Richmonders,” he said in a statement.

But Victoria Cobb, the president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, told Richmond-area CBS affiliate WTVR that the council’s vote was political posturing. She also defended the practice, saying that “quite literally thousands” of individuals have been helped by therapy to deal with “unwanted same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria.”

She also contended that the government should not be dictating the type of therapy that individuals may seek to receive.

“The entire move is an attempt to limit people’s freedom in a way that these people are seeking this counselor,” Cobb said. “You don’t need Christian values to think freedom for counselors and their clients is absolutely what this country is all about. We don’t limit people’s ability to get a service that they’re looking for.”

But Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s top LGBTQ organization, praised the council’s vote, calling conversion therapy a “harmful and discredited practice.”

“While conversion therapy should be banned in every corner of the commonwealth, Richmond is a good place to start,” the organization said in a Facebook post. “We applaud Mayor Levar Stoney and the city council members for taking this matter seriously, and we hope other locales follow their leadership.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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