Assembly to consider ban on conversion therapy for minors

The microphone for public testimony at the Anchorage Assembly lights up as a resident...
The microphone for public testimony at the Anchorage Assembly lights up as a resident approaches the podium.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 26, 2020 at 10:47 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is considering a ban on conversion therapy for youth. Conversion therapy is a practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of an individual. The potential ban will be up for public hearing and possibly a vote at the Assembly’s July 28 meeting. Supporters of the ordinance argue it prevents a debunked practice that harms minors, while critics say the restrictions are too heavy-handed and would restrict personal freedoms.

The ordinance, AO 2020-65, targets “sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts” or “conversion therapy” coming from licensed, certified, or registered professionals, and would impose a $500/day fine to any that engage in those practices. One of the ordinance’s sponsors, Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, said the intent is to stop practices he believes have been proven to be ineffective and harmful.

“There are a multitude of different medical associations, pediatric associations which have denounced conversion therapy for a ton of different reasons,” Rivera said. “Primarily because it doesn’t provide positive results for youth. The two leading results that it provides for youth are depression and suicide.”

Lillian Lennon, a transgender queer woman in Anchorage, has been pushing for years for the assembly to pass an ordinance like this. Lennon said she spent two years at a conversion therapy camp where she said she was subjected to verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. On the other side, her identity hadn’t changed.

“I came out the other end, still the person I am, but feeling far more damaged,” she said.

Rivera and Lennon said the ordinance is meant to prevent those kinds of practices from occurring in Anchorage, but others are worried that the language in the ordinance is much broader than that.

“There’s a fear that people who want help are not going to be able to get it,” said Jim Minnery, president of Christian public policy organization the Alaska Family Council.

Minnery said he’s worried the ordinance would prevent families in agreement from seeking the treatment they want, which he described as a separate situation from the conditions Lennon went through.

“Certainly we don’t believe in any kind of coercive action that would force some minor to do something they’re not willing to do,” he said. “That would be reprehensible.”

He argued that a minor experiencing uncertainty over their sexual orientation or gender identity should be able to go through therapy and come out the other side with multiple possible outcomes; he believes the ordinance as it’s written doesn’t allow that.

“Minors who struggle with gender dysphoria or unwanted same-sex attraction should have the help that they desire,” he said.

Rivera pointed out that there are exceptions and carve-outs in the ordinance. The restrictions only apply to medical professionals and not to religious institutions, nor does it impact therapy for adults.

“If you’re an adult, you can make whatever decision you want,” he said.

The ordinance will be up for public comment at the Assembly’s July 28 meeting. Due to an emergency order, the public will not be able to enter the chambers. You can request to be called for comment during the meeting, or submit written comments by emailing

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