Ferndale Bans Conversion Therapy, Making it a Misdemeanor

Ferndale Bans Conversion Therapy, Making it a Misdemeanor

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 14, 2019)

Ferndale, MI -Ferndale City Council voted Monday to make conversion therapy on a minor a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

In her first full meeting on the dais, Councilperson Julia Music introduced the ordinance after a resident had pointed out that Huntington Woods had banned it earlier this year. At the time Huntington Woods Commissioner Joe Rozzell introduced the ordinance, he said conversion therapy “a hateful and fundamentally flawed practice that is counter to everything that this city stands for.”

Ferndale is believed to be the third city outlawing the practice in Michigan. As defined in the ordinance “Conversation therapy or reparative therapy means any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards individuals of the same gender. Conversion therapy shall not include counseling that provides support and assistance to a person undergoing gender transition, or counseling that provides acceptance, support, and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s coping,social support, and development, including sexual orientation neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices, as long as such counseling does not seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Dave Garcia, the Executive Director of Affirmations LGBT Community Center located in Downtown Ferndale, spoke about a young man he met who had been forced to watch straight porn and play lots of basketball to convert him to being heterosexual. Garcia later went on to work in California, where he encountered many kids who were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused in conversion therapy camps. He praised a California law that allowed Social Services to come into camps at any time, whether religious or not, to check on the welfare of the children. “I’ve seen the damage conversion therapy does… what happens in conversion therapy is killing people.”

Ferndale resident Oscar Renautt shared statistics about LGBT youth, including that those who have been forced into conversion therapy are 8x more likely to attempt suicide than those who simply live in an un-accepting household. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with LGBTQ citizens of our city,” Renautt said.

Originally this was on the agenda as a civil infraction, but Council increased it to make the potential for jail time part of the penalty. “We need to put more teeth into this,” said Councilperson Dennis Whittie before introducing the amendment to make it a misdemeanor.

The summary introducing the ordinance expresses why city leaders supported the ban. “Ferndale is a safe and welcoming city for all people. In support of our community values of inclusiveness, integrity, inspiration, and innovation, we oppose the mistreatment and marginalization of those unable to defend themselves or assert their identity. The ideals of our vision as a benchmark for a modern community that embraces the richness of diversity and brings inclusive hospitality to life stand in direct opposition with the hateful and psychologically damaging practice of conversion therapy. The City is responsible for the public health, safety, and welfare of our youth and must safeguard against harmful practices. Knowing that conversion therapy results in irrevocable damage to the lives of LGBTQ youth, and acknowledging that policy reflects the values of a community, motivates the Council and Administration to protect our residents in the event of the practice of conversion therapy.”

The ban passed with unanimous support.

It was a prideful moment to pass the strictest ordinance against conversion therapy in the state of Michigan,” Music said.  “The decision not only creates a safer more inclusive Ferndale, it also sends a strong message that we will not support a practice that raises the likelihood of suicide, depression and long-term negative consequences for those its inflicted on.”

Update: This story has been updated to include that East Lansing also banned conversion therapy earlier this year, making Ferndale the third.  This story was updated to reflect this.

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