New York City Set To Reverse Ban on Conversion Therapy for a Strategic Reason

City Hall of New York, in Lower Manhattan. / Image via mcommisso75

As the New York Times reported yesterday, New York City’s councilmembers are slated to overturn the city’s ban on conversion therapy just two years after passing it. Openly gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson “said the Council would act swiftly to repeal the ban,” according to the Times

New York’s 2017 Conversion Therapy Ban

In December 2017, New York passed a ban on the set of practices known as “conversion therapy,” explained by The Observer at the time as


any services offered or provided to consumers for a fee that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity “to conform to the sex of such individual that was recorded at birth,” according to the bill.

Under the extant law, violators “receive a $1,000 civil penalty for the first violation, $5,000 for the second violation, and $10,000 for each subsequent violation.” 

The conversion therapy ban initially was hailed by LGBTQ and civil rights advocates as landmark, if overdue, legislation protecting LGBTQ youths from severe harm. As early as 2007, the American Psychological Association sounded the alarm on conversion therapy, citing flawed methodologies in research cited by defenders of the practice. A later, separate San Francisco State University study of conversion therapy’s effects on LGBTQ youths found egregious outcomes, including significantly higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts and other negative health outcomes.

Why The Reversal?

Per the Times, Council Speaker Johnson explained not only his disappointment in overturning the ban, but also the pragmatic reason for doing so:


“Obviously I didn’t want to repeal this. I don’t want to be someone who is giving in to these right-wing groups,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview. “But the Supreme Court has become conservative; the Second Circuit, which oversees New York, has become more conservative.” …

“We think this is the most responsible, prudent course,” Mr. Johnson [added].

The law already has drawn lawsuits, including one from the Alliance Defending Freedom, on first amendment/free speech grounds. More than a dozen states, including New York, plus Washington, D.C. and “50 municipalities” around the U.S. have banned conversion therapy, according to figures from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, also cited by the Times.


This latest news from New York fits into the broader national story of ongoing legal challenges to LGBTQ rights and liberties, and the New York City Council’s strategic choice on conversion therapy recognizes likelier challenges across the increasingly conservative federal courts.

A trio of non-discrimination cases are set for argument at the U.S. Supreme Court next month in a highly anticipated test of whether LGBTQ Americans are protected on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Proponents and opponents have deluged the Court already.

Only time will tell.

(Source: New York Times)

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