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Anchorage has become the first city in Alaska to ban conversion therapy, a widely debunked practice that seeks to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity.
Lawmakers in the Anchorage Assembly approved a ban last week, with only two of the chamber’s 11 members opposing, the Anchorage Daily News reports.
The ban prevents licensed professionals from attempting conversion therapy on minors in the city, with those who continue to do so subject to a $500 fine, which stacks for each day that the ban is violated.
“One day, this practice will be banned throughout the United States,” Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, who co-sponsored the ban, said. “And then one day, we are going to look back and we’re going to wonder why this was ever a debate, and why this practice was ever allowed.”
Anchorage’s ban does not cover clergy undertaking the practice in a religious setting, nor mental health professionals, and adults are free to continue to seek conversion therapy.
Parents are also able to administer conversion therapy as long as they are not licensed counsellors.
Critics of the ban, including multiple people who objected to the measure during a public hearing prior to the vote, claimed that it violates the rights of parents and religious groups.
Some noted that the ban’s three sponsors — Austin Quinn-Davidson, Chris Constant, and Rivera — are gay and accused them of introducing it to further an agenda. Others claimed that being LGBTQ was akin to having a mental illness.
“We’re people. We’re real people,” Quinn-Davidson said. “When you say those things to us, it doesn’t hurt, because it’s wrong and we’re used to it. But it’s sad.”
Assemblywomen Crystal Kennedy — who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives in 2016 — was one of two lawmakers to oppose the ban, which she called “one-sided.”
“It really only serves to protect those who want to support and promote homosexuality and gender change,” said Kennedy.
LGBTQ suicide prevention nonprofit The Trevor Project praised the passing of the ban, calling it a “historic action to end conversion therapy in Alaska’s largest city.”
“According to data from The Trevor Project’s new national survey, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not,” Sam Brinton, Vice-President of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project., said in a statement.
A widely debunked practice that has been condemned by major health organizations, conversion therapy uses a variety of methods to attempt to “change” an LGBTQ person’s sexuality or gender identity. Such efforts can range from talk therapy to more extreme methods such as aversion or electroshock therapy.
The United Nations recently urged a global ban on the practice, labelling it “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” and saying it “may amount to torture depending on the circumstances.”
Research has found that conversion therapy more than doubles the risk of suicidal ideation among gay and bisexual adults, while transgender people subjected to conversion therapy as children are four times more likely to attempt suicide.
A number of former “ex-gay” leaders, who touted the efficacy of conversion therapy in attempts to force others to undergo the practice, have since come out as gay and decried the practice, admitting the harm it can cause to LGBTQ people.
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