Madison Heights bans conversion therapy for minors

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 7, 2020

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Health care providers in Madison Heights that engage in programs attempting to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity — sometimes referred to as “conversion therapy” — will now be subject to imprisonment and fines.

The Madison Heights City Council unanimously approved the amendment to the city’s ordinance on minors upon its second reading July 27, effectively prohibiting the practice in the city. Conversion therapy is widely panned by critics in the medical community as ineffective and even traumatizing for youths.

Under the new ordinance, programs are still allowed that are supportive of a minor’s sexual orientation and gender identity, helping them to explore it and develop it. But any programs that try to change how a minor sees themselves or the attraction they feel toward others are strictly prohibited.

Officials say the measure affords protections to minors across the full range of sexual orientations and gender identities, including LGBTQ+, recognizing that they are especially vulnerable to adults who may try to impose conversion therapy on them.

“I don’t anticipate this being an issue in the city that we need to address, but I wanted it to be on the books to prevent it from being an issue in the future,” said Madison Heights City Councilman David Soltis. “Minors don’t have a choice (to enroll in conversion therapy) — they have to deal with whatever their parents choose for them — and research shows this can be detrimental to a youth.

“But at the same time, therapists are still free to counsel youths in a way that is supportive of their identity and not judgmental of it,” he added. “I just want to protect youths from any coercive influences that might interfere with them finding themselves in a free and healthy manner.

“This is narrowly tailored to prevent this clinical practice, but it’s not meant to interfere with the beliefs of faith communities. It just protects the youth, allowing them to decide what kind of therapies they want and making that decision on their own. It’s protecting the individual minor,” Soltis said. “Because of their age, not being an adult yet, they are more susceptible to outside pressure. When it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, the parents shouldn’t try to decide that for the child.

“I would like to thank the city attorney, Jeff Sherman, for writing such a thorough ordnance that attempts to cover the full spectrum of orientations and identities,” Soltis concluded.

Madison Heights City Councilwoman Kymm Clark said the measure sends a powerful message to the community.

“I am sure conversion therapy has never been an issue here in Madison Heights, which makes this ordinance really a symbolic gesture — but a grand progressive gesture, to be sure,” Clark said. “We have sent out a signal that Madison Heights is a safe place for anyone.

“In order to adapt public policy to meet the needs of our residents, change must first happen locally. By recognizing this ordinance, we are leading by example as a community. Like Ferndale, Royal Oak, Hazel Park and many cities like them, we are adopting human rights policies that serve the greater community and the generations that follow,” she continued.

“Too often, cities fail to adapt to their changing demographics, and young people who might typically plant roots will leave to become part of more progressive, developing cities. When our young innovators leave our city, development grinds to a halt, and the city becomes a ghost town,” Clark said. “We are nothing without our diverse community. It is time our policies reflected those who are beginning to plant roots and work together to make our city a better place to live, work and play.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett said the ordinance is thoughtfully written.

“Councilman Soltis never backs away from challenging, complicated and nuanced issues. The topic of conversion therapy is certainly an example,” Corbett said.

“As written, this ordinance carefully carves out the areas of therapeutic and First Amendment rights from those uses of therapy that cross the line and attempt to enforce and compel adherence to antiquated views of personal gender identification and behavioral choices,” he said. “Individuals who are confronting private emotional concerns can seek treatment while being assured that standards of personal choice will be protected in our community.”