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Council to Scrap Conversion Therapy Ban

Lawmakers cite lawsuit, superseding state law, advocates’ request

The City Council, led by Speaker Corey Johnson, will repeal the city’s broad ban on conversion therapy that was passed in 2017.
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The New York City Council is repealing its ban on so-called conversion therapy in response to LGBTQ advocates who voiced their satisfaction with the state’s version of the measure and acknowledged that legal challenges could derail the city law anyway.

Out gay Speaker Corey Johnson confirmed to Gay City News that the city’s lawmaking body, after “intense deliberati­on,” is planning to ditch the 2017 law that broadly bans New Yorkers from paying for the debunked practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The courts have changed considerably over the last few years, and we cannot count on them to rule in favor of much-needed protections for the LGBTQ community,” said Johnson, who noted that queer youth are protected by the state law.

A spokesperson for the speaker could not confirm exactly when the City Council plans to move ahead with the repeal.

The bigoted Arizona-based legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has fought against queer causes in court for years, took aim at the city law in January when the organization filed suit in US district court in Brooklyn arguing that the measure is unconstitutional because it violates free speech.

The city legislation is far broader than the conversion therapy bans passed in a number of states, including New York, where the practice is only banned from being used on minors.

Johnson emphasized that the City Council is still strongly opposed to conversion therapy, calling it “barbaric and inhumane.”

“I can’t stress enough how agonizing of a decision this was, but ultimately I listened to the advocates who know the issue best, as well as my heart,” he said.

Shannon Minter, who is the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) in San Francisco, told Gay City News that his team is on board with the move to repeal the ban because the state law sufficiently protects LGBTQ youth. Local and state consumer fraud laws, he said, already provide legal recourse for adults.

“Getting rid of the local law does not take away any legal protections,” he stressed. “This is a smart move, and we strongly support what the City Council is doing.”

Those consumer protections are coming in handy because they are especially unique to New York, according to conversion therapy survivor Mathew Shurka, a native New Yorker who also works with NCLR and was among the advocates to prod the city to repeal the law.

“New York City is the only city that has protections as far reaching as that,” Shurka told Gay City News on September 11.

Shurka said he and other advocates started conversations about the issue with the City Council roughly six months ago, which would have been about two months after the ADL filed its lawsuit and the state passed its conversion therapy ban.

“Our goal is to minimize the lawsuits if they’re unnecessary,” Shurka said. “We have a state law that can minimize the amount of lawsuits that are out there and save our resources in helping and protecting LGBTQ people.”

Other advocacy groups that encouraged the city to repeal the law included the LGBT Bar Association and Foundation of Greater New York and Lambda Legal, according to a City Council spokesperson. Those organizations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 2017 City Council bill was led by then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is currently running for Congress in the Bronx. Southern Brooklyn homophobe Chaim Deutsch, who is still in the City Council, joined former Brooklyn Councilmember David Greenfield as the only two city lawmakers to oppose the bill at the time. Bronx Councilmember Andy King abstained from that vote, as he typically does when presented with LGBTQ-related legislation.

Updated 6:44 pm, September 11, 2019
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