Suits Against Cincinnati in the Works After Council Bans Conversion Therapies for Teens
City Councilman Charles Winburn and Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress warned of two potential lawsuits against the City of Cincinnati at a Friday press conference about the city’s new ordinance against so-called “conversion therapy” for minors.
Buress said a suit by a national group was in the works, while Winburn said he was preparing to sue if Council does not rescind the ban after he sends them a letter.
Passed 7-2 just days after being introduced by Councilman Chris Seelbach (Winburn and Amy Murray cast the no votes), the ordinance declares that City Council “finds that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming,” and prohibits therapy that “aims to change sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual or to convert an individual who identifies with a gender other than the gender assigned at birth to the originally assigned gender.”
Anyone who violates the ban — the ordinance specifies mental health professionals but define that term as including therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and others, well as “any other persons offering such mental health services” — will be fined $200 for each day he or she continues to do so.
In a brief address following the press conference, Winburn outlined 10 reasons he says the ordinance violates numerous laws, as well as the US Constitution. These include First Amendment violations, HIPAA violations, intrusion on state authority, and denial of due process (see box below), as well as a definition of “mental health professionals” so broad that Winburn said it could encompass almost anyone.
Three licensed Christian therapists also spoke. All said that the ordinance violates the religious freedom rights of young people, therapists, ministers, and parents, and that it mischaracterizes therapy for people who have unwanted attractions to others of the same sex.
“No one is saying that you can’t be gay or transgendered,” said marriage and family therapist David Pickup, who works with men who are attracted to other men. “I have gay clients. I would not force reparative therapy on anyone who doesn’t or believe it.
“What this does is ignore the rights of others to think for themselves. Your City Council is demanding that you be what they say you should be.”
All three therapists said they had been molested as children or experienced difficult home lives, and that unwanted attraction to people of the same sex had been the result. Therapists Garry and Melissa Ingraham, now married and the parents of two, said they had considered themselves “gay” and “lesbian,” but that their sexual activity had brought them overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, depression, and other problems.
All three said that their religious beliefs and competent therapy freed them from, rather than caused, their problems.
City Councilman Charles Winburn’s 10-point argument against Cincinnati’s Chapter 769 Ordinance banning “sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts” for minors:
- It violates the First Amendment rights of minors.
- It violates the First Amendment rights of parents.
- It violates the First Amendment rights of pastors, whether licensed or unlicensed as therapists.
- It oversteps the municipal authority of the City of Cincinnati.
- It intrudes on the authority of the state, which licenses therapists.
- It fails to provide reasonable safeguards for patient/client confidentiality.
- It violates HIPPA privacy laws.
- It fails to provide due process for therapists accused of violating it.
- It is anti-business and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
- It denies the rights of citizens to self-determination.
“In short, Cincinnati has no authority to enact such a regulation” Winburn said, adding that “the City law department should have known better” than to okay the ordinance, which he predicted will drive churches and therapists to other municipalities and could open the City to charges of creating frivolous laws.
Garry Ingraham said that his sexual activity originally gave him feelings of euphoria, but that he soon felt trapped and knew that what he was doing was wrong. “I went to a counselor, and was told ‘you were born this way, the negative feelings you’re experiencing are only because you’re trying to suppress it,’” he said. “I left that office with a feeling of absolute hopelessness.”
“If I was left with no option but to have continued pursuing homosexuality, I would have killed myself,” said Melissa Ingraham. “People with these feelings need a place to go without shame or judgement, and without being told, ‘this is who you are, you need to adjust to it.’ Many of my clients have tried to pursue lesbianism, but found it unfulling. I walk beside them in their journeys of self-determination and autonomy.”
All three said that ethical therapists don’t try to change their clients, whether the clients are adults or minors.
“No competent therapist will tell children they are mentally damaged and must changed,” Pickup said.
But all three said that therapy based on one’s religious beliefs about right and wrong is a First Amendment right, and that Cincinnati’s ordinance violates it in favor of a political belief.
“It violates religious freedom for the counselor, and the clients’ rights to treatment that respect their values,” as well as the rights of parents to raise their children, Melissa Ingraham said.
“Developmentally, children are trying to figure out who they are. To label children as young as five, six, and 10 years old as gay, lesbian, or bisexual makes no sense,” she added. “Cincinnati’s City Council is saint there is only one set of values that you can pursue. That doesn’t make common sense, legal sense, or ethical sense.”
As well as denying the rights of any licensed therapist who works for a church or other religious organization, Pickup said, the ordinance denies children whose same-sex or confused feelings come from abuse, as his did, from getting the the help they need.
“God help those children if they live in the City of Cincinnati,” he said. “What kind of politician, what kind of Councilman, what kind of human being decides that?
“ I do not harm children. But your City Council has voted to harm children. Before City Council wreaks havoc on your children’s lives, tell them to stand down and elect a new Council.”
Supporters of Ordinance Protest Therapy Conference
Five supporters of Cincinnati’s new rule banning “conversion therapy” for teens protested outside the press conference and the conference for pastors that followed it Friday morning at the Central Parkway Church of God in Cincinnati.
Three were from the Clifton United Methodist Church, one was from the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the fifth was from Cincinnati Pride.
The three from Clifton UMC included pastor David Meredith and two members who identified themselves as a licensed social worker and a professional who works with children. The church identifies itself as “a progressive faith community” and as a member of the Methodist Rreconciling Ministries movement to encourage the acceptance of sexual and gender differences as God-given.
“Young people are created by the love of God,” Rev. Meredith explained. “Any development comes from the inside out,” and can’t be imposed by a therapist or a church.
“Identity is more than our bodies, identity is part of a social construct,” said the social worker, explaining that the three opposed “any attempt to change a person’s identity.”
HRC’s Daniel Traicoff said that medical and therapy associations opposed the kind of therapies banned by the ordinance, and praised it as a “way to protect people who are unable to protect themselves.”
Shawn Baker of Cincinnati Pride added that he also had problems with the religious aspects of opposition to the ban. “I can get ordained on the internet,” he said, arguing that religious beliefs are not necessarily correct and that religious attempts to make people conform to standards defined by religious beliefs are older than any laws. “And I’m saying that as a Jew,” he added.
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