GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After a months-long push, several healthcare advocacy groups are getting close to passing a ban on so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that attempts to change an LGBTQ+ person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Grand Rapids LGBTQIA+ Health Care Consortium drafted a memorandum in coordination with the city’s community relations manager and diversity and inclusion liaison laying out avenues for passing the ban. The memo suggests amending the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to include a ban on conversion therapy or crafting a new ordinance altogether that would prevent use of the controversial practice in city limits.
“Unfortunately, this still happens here in Grand Rapids, we’re still seeing and hearing about the damage that’s being done, and it needs to be banned in the strongest possible way,” said Dough Booth, COO of HealthNet West Michigan.
Booth, who grew up in Grand Rapids and is gay himself, reached out the Healthcare Consortium a few months ago to get the ball rolling on a ban.
Statistics show the practice can have dangerous results. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA’s Law School, an estimated 698,000 LGBTQ+ individuals have experienced conversion therapy in their lives – those who do are twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to peers who don’t.
Booth says the issue is a financial one, too. Despite already-existing glaring disparities for LGBTQ+ people when it comes to healthcare, those who undergo conversion therapy are expected to spend an estimated $84,000 in their lifetime on additional physical and mental healthcare dealing with lingering issues.
Seven Michigan cities, including Ann Arbor, Berkley, East Lansing, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Madison Heights and Royal Oak, have passed municipal bans on conversion therapy.
“I’m also talking with East Grand Rapids, Saugatuck, Douglas, and I will be reaching out to pretty much every other major city,” said Booth, “because if Grand Rapids can do it, everyone can.”
In his efforts to collect support, Booth has reached out to nonprofits, healthcare groups and local businesses to preach the benefits of a more welcoming city, and the dangers of conversion therapy.
“It’s not only damaging to that individual, but it’s damaging to the community around them,” he said. “So being a city or a state that isn’t going to affirm us, why would we come and spend our money there? Why would we come work? Why would we live and raise a family if a community can’t even stand by us?”
One corner of resistance that local bans on conversion therapy have faced come from religious and spiritual groups. Legislation that wades into religious freedom waters add a sticky element to banning practices of any kind, so Booth wants to ban referrals as well, so accountability exists even for those not actually practicing conversion therapy.