The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved on Tuesday a resolution banning sexual orientation “conversion therapy” of minors in exchange for a fee.
The 3-2 decision of the board echoes decisions in nine other states that have made conversion therapy illegal and takes the public stance that sexual identity is not a disorder or mental illness.
The ordinance will restrict “sexual orientation change efforts to change behaviors, sexual or gender identities or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards persons of the same sex,” the resolution says.
“Conversion therapy” is the attempt to prevent or change a person from being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Among the many public speakers at the board’s meeting were educators, parents, therapists, religious leaders, advocacy groups and members from the LGBTQ community.
Resident Paul Stratton said he has known his sexual identity since age 6, and has experienced the inefficacies of conversion therapy.
“It did not work for me and caused more problems than it solved,” he said. “If you want to love your child, love them, try to understand them, be affirmative but don’t put them through a voodoo kind of therapy that is just ineffective.”
In 2009, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation found that there “is no evidence that the practice of sexual orientation conversion therapy on minors is effective in changing sexual orientation or gender identity in adulthood.”
For those opposed to the resolution, it is a matter of hindering a parent’s ability to choose the care or treatment their child might require.
The ordinance will not restrict minors from having general discussions with licensed therapists, religious practitioners or free counsel, only conversion therapies on minors where a fee is charged.
The resolution makes an infraction a civil offense, with the person who violates its subject to a civil fine up to $2,500 for each offense.
Supervisor Ally Miller voted no, calling the resolution one-sided and addressing concerns over the legal ramifications if the measure was approved.
“Accept me for what I am works both ways, folks,” she said.
“Quite frankly it scares me to death, because I believe passing this ordinance will put Pima County taxpayers at risk for loss of federal funding and state funding.”
According to the county attorney, while the ordinance could cause legal challenges, the county would be prepared to defend it and would likely be successful.
Supervisor Steve Christy also voted no, citing it as one of many national resolutions coming to the board and taking time away from dealing with local issues. He noted that if therapists do this kind of work for free, the ordinance would not prevent it.
“I have yet to see any evidence in Pima County where this is a rampant problem with all this abusive therapy, but if there is this abuse there is an organization called Child Protective Services (now Department of Child Safety) that has laws on the books and exists already,” he said.
The ordinance was proposed by Supervisor Richard Elías, who said it reaffirms the board is on the right side of civil rights.
“I care for all of you, just as you are, and I especially care for our children,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with any of us, even though we may disagree sometimes.”