The city of Royal Oak has adopted an ordinance to ban conversion therapy during its meeting on Monday, June 22. When officially put into law, Royal Oak will become just the fifth city in Michigan to ban this practice and make the state a safer place for LGBTQ people to live, alongside Ferndale, Huntington Woods, East Lansing and Berkley.
"It is a barbaric practice trying to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity using a variety of tactics that often result in really severe emotional or psychological harm to the individual," said councilmember Kyle DuBuc.
Many camps where conversion therapy is practiced use extremely harmful tactics, such as the denial of food and isolation where those being "treated" are put in a closet alone for days. Sometimes, conversion therapy camps justify sexual abuse and make participants watch straight porn. Other times, they are forced to write down verses of the Bible that condemn homosexuality. In every case, it is detrimental. In the 2018 Faith and Sexuality Survey conducted by the Ozanne Foundation, nearly 70% of those who had experienced conversion therapy have had suicidal thoughts and almost 60% have developed depression that requires medication.
Watch the full meeting here:
"I have been seeing the ramifications of conversion therapy for 25 years. I have seen suicides, dozens of suicides directly related to conversion therapy. I could tell you the horror stories on the worst extremes of electric shock therapy," said Dave Garcia, the executive director of Affirmations LGBTQ community center in Ferndale.
Statewide there are two bills, Senate Bill 284 and House Bill 4515, that are still pending in the legislature to ban conversion therapy for minors. Michigan is one out of 30 states that has yet to make a ban on conversion therapy.
Reporting conversion camps and therapy to the authorities can be a very difficult process. Many conversion therapists keep their practices discrete so they do not receive backlash from the public, so only participants and their parents know about it. Therapists also force the participants to believe they need this process so oftentimes, they do not even think to report them to the authorities. Other therapists who do not participate in conversion therapy that know it is going on may report it to the state. However, many conversion therapies taking place are protected by religion. If the participant is seeing a priest rather than a certified therapist at the state level, it can be handled differently by the authorities due to conflicts with religious belief protections.
"This practice needs to go away. There is an actual device that you can see, back in the day it was a portable electrocution machine that they used to use to electrocute gay men any time they had a thought about [the] same sex," Garcia said. "It is not much different when you have a certified therapist telling a kid that they can change who they are or that they need to change who they are. The results are the same."
Following in the footsteps of Ferndale, the council is in the talks of labeling conversion therapy as a misdemeanor and making it punishable by up to 93 days in jail or a $500 fine. By Royal Oak banning the practice of conversion therapy, it not only has the potential to inspire other municipalities to do the same, but the city may force government officials in Lansing to take notice and do something about it statewide.
"Every single professional person that you talk to that is not blinded by prejudice or bigotry will tell you the harmful ramifications of conversion therapy. You cannot change someone's sexual orientation," Garcia said.