© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ban on anti-gay 'conversion therapy' fails in Jackson County Legislature by 1 vote

Rainbow flag blowing in a backyard.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The discredited practice of "converting" people to heterosexuality or traditional gender expectations has been banned in several Jackson County municipalities, but an ordinance to ban use of the practice on minors countywide failed by a single vote on Monday.

It’s already illegal for health care providers to practice so-called conversion therapy in parts of Jackson County, but the failed ordinance would have outlawed use of the discredited practice on minors across the county and made it easier to report abuse.

The Jackson County Legislature failed on Monday to pass a ban on so-called conversion therapy, the scientifically discredited practice that seeks to “convert” people to a heterosexual lifestyle or traditional gender roles.

The ordinance — which would have enacted the strictest ban in the metro — needed six votes to pass. Five legislators voted yes and three abstained. Legislator Sean Smith was the only no vote.

Legislator Jalen Anderson, one of the co-sponsors of the ordinance, called the vote “disgraceful.”

Major medical groups including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have denounced so-called conversion therapy, saying it’s not only ineffective but actively harmful.

The ban would have established a $500 fine for violations, but did not include jail time. The ban would have also prevented organizations who employ people found practicing so-called conversion therapy from receiving any funding from the county.

The Jackson County ban defined so-called conversion therapy as a practice or treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of anyone under 18. The ban also included practices that intend to change behaviors or gender expressions for minors. It would have applied to licensed medical and mental health professionals.

Kansas City and Independence have also banned so-called conversion therapy, but Jackson County’s ordinance went a step further by including a process for survivors to hold violators of the ban accountable.

Legislator Manny Abarca, one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors, said that aspect was important to give teeth to the ban.

“This is for the survivors, this is for the victims who didn’t survive,” Abarca said.

Abarca, Anderson, Megan Marshall, Jeanie Lauer and Charlie Franklin were the five yes votes. DaRon McGee, Venessa Huskey and Donna Peyton abstained from voting.

Anderson said so-called conversion therapy is child abuse. During Monday’s meeting, he talked about his own experience with the discredited practice from ages 12 to 14.

“This legislation does nothing but protect children,” Anderson said. “There is nothing controversial about this. What it is saying is you cannot torture a child.”

Marshall, one of the five yes votes, sent out a statement after the ban failed underscoring his testimony.

"Legislator Jalen Anderson's courageous story is a reminder that conversion therapy is not just ineffective, it can have devastating and long-lasting consequences," Marshall said in an emailed statement after the vote. "As a legislative body, it is our responsibility to protect and advocate for all members of our community, and we must continue to do so without fail."

Jackson County Executive Frank White also issued a statement condemning the legislature's failure to pass the ban.

“I am disappointed that the Jackson County Legislature failed to send a clear message today that LGBTQ+ youth should be valued, respected and treated with the same dignity that every human being deserves," he said. "I encourage anyone who cares about protecting kids to attend the county legislative meetings until the legislation is passed and I sign it into law.”

Last year, the American Psychological Association published a statement concluding there is “insufficient evidence” to support the use of so-called conversion therapy. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also states that so-called conversion therapies lack scientific credibility.

The Jackson County ordinance contained language that so-called conversion therapy does not include “counseling that provides support and assistance to a person undergoing gender transition.” It also included language recognizing that sexual orientation is not a choice.

Sixth district legislator Sean Smith — the lone no vote — attempted to change some of the language in the ordinance, including removing some language that defined sexual orientation.

The ban was first introduced in late January, and heard in the legislature’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee last week. Abarca told KCUR’s Up to Date last week that several people testified about their personal experiences with so-called conversion therapy.

“One that I think really rang true was an individual who said that he volunteered to do conversion therapy as an adult, and regretted the scenario and the imaginable situation where a kid would be forced to do it was something unimaginable to him,” Abarca said.

At present, 20 states, the District of Columbia and about 100 municipalities have passed laws banning so-called conversion therapy.

Missouri does not have any statewide law banning the practice for minors. Jackson County’s failed attempt comes as the Missouri legislature is debating several pieces of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.