Walz signs order restricting ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

Published 2:48 pm Thursday, July 15, 2021

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order aimed at banning so-called conversion therapy on Thursday but said it’s just a start and called on the Legislature to make the ban permanent.

Walz said conversion therapy — the scientifically discredited practice of using therapy to “convert” LGBTQ people to heterosexuality or traditional gender expectations — is a “byzantine, tortuous practice” that’s not supported by any legitimate mental health organization. He said his order empowers state agencies to ensure that no Minnesotans under age 18 are subjected to it, and that insurance companies and state health plans don’t cover it.

“There’s no place for hate in this state, there’s no room for division,” Walz said at a signing ceremony just ahead of Pride Weekend. “Our LGBTQ+ community is part, and a huge part, of what it means to be one Minnesota. When they are hurt or put through this, we all hurt. And when they succeed, we all succeed.”

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Minnesota became one of 24 states that, to varying degrees, ban mental health professionals from seeking to change anyone’s sexual orientation. Eleven

Minnesota cities already have local bans, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Duluth.

Junior Avalos, 25, of Minneapolis said at the ceremony that he hopes the order lets LGBTQ young people know “that they get to live their authentic selves without repercussions or fear.” He said he worked a fast food job to put himself through conversion therapy when he was 16 and is still healing from the trauma.

“Because everywhere around me, not just from my peers but authority figures that I looked up to, I was being told that there was something wrong with me, that I was broken, that I didn’t deserve to be here,” Avalos said. “And all I ever wanted was to be accepted.”

Attempts to get a ban through the divided Legislature failed in 2019 amid Republican opposition. Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, of Minneapolis, said legislation is still necessary to ensure that a future governor doesn’t repeal the ban, and to extend it to Minnesotans of all ages.

Conversion therapy, Dibble said, “happens every single day. There are dozens of providers in the Twin Cities alone that do this.” The senator, who is openly gay and said he spent years loathing himself and praying to be different, said the order sends a message to young LGBTQ Minnesotans.

“You are perfect,” Dibble said. “You are who you are meant to be. You do not have to change, and please don’t. You are a gift from God. Our state and our world is better because you are part of it. You are a part of us. You are a full member of Minnesota’s family, and beloved.”

Republican opponents include Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake. He has come under criticism from his 30-year-old adult child, Genna Gazelka, who identifies as bigender. As a teenager, they were sent to a therapist opposed to same-sex relations and went public about their experience during the 2019 debate.

Dibble said “more than a handful of Republican senators” who voted against the ban in 2019 have told him they would switch if they had the opportunity to do it over again. Dibble made another push early in the 2020 session before the pandemic derailed the effort.

The majority leader’s spokeswoman said he had no comment Thursday.

But the Minnesota Family Council called the order an example of “executive overreach” and an attack on the constitutional rights of patients, families and therapists.

“This executive order will not end so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ since professional standards in mental health care already did that years ago. Instead, this will ban young people experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria from getting the voluntary, compassionate care they need,”

John Helmberger, CEO of group, said in a statement.