Steve Johnson

More and more cities in the United States continue to ban the harmful and discredited practice.

Anchorage has become the first Alaskan city to pass a ban on ‘conversion therapy’. The ordinance, which was passed on Wednesday (26 August) by 9-2, bans medically licenced professionals from performing the harmful practice on people under 18.

The practice – which has been discredited by the NHS and the World Psychiatric Association – refers to any attempt at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and often involves techniques like electroshock therapy or prayer.

The new ordinance will punish those who break it with a $500 fine for every day that they performed it on someone.

However, it has not banned clergy who are acting in a religious sense, instead of a mental health sense.

The passing of the ordinance was praised by Sam Brinton, the Vice-President of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. In a statement, Sam said: “The Trevor Project applauds the Anchorage Assembly for taking this historic action to end conversion therapy in Alaska’s largest city.

“According to data from The Trevor Project’s new national survey, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not.”

Speaking to the Anchorage Daily News, Felix Rivera, the Assembly Chair, shared hopes that the ban would extend nationwide, adding: “And then one day, we are going to look back and we’re going to wonder why this was ever a debate, and why this practice was ever allowed.”

The ordinance faced fierce opposition, and in a public testimony most of the 65 speakers opposed the ban, arguing that it violated the first amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. Most amendments to the ordinance failed, save for some that simply clarified its intent.

Some speakers noted how three of the sponsors were gay, and accused them of trying to further an agenda. Others attempted to compare being LGBTQ+ to having a mental illness.

Crystal Kennedy, one of the assembly members to vote against the ordinance, claimed it was too “one-sided” and said: “It really only serves to protect those who want to support and promote homosexuality and gender change.”

Countering this, Austin Quinn-Davidson, one of the sponsors said: “We’re people. We’re real people. When you say those things to us, it doesn’t hurt, because it’s wrong and we’re used to it. But it’s sad.”

Anchorage isn’t the only place to pass a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ this week, as the Australian Capital Territory also passed its own ban.

Under the law, which passed by 14-11, practitioners who attempt to change a person with diminished decision-making capabilities or a child’s sexuality or gender identity could face up to 12 months in prison, or a fine of AU$24,000.

The law, which comes into force next year, will still be in effect even if there was parental consent, or if the person was brought out of the state in order to have the ‘practice’ performed. The law will not ban someone from supporting or assisting a trans person who is transitioning.

Gordon Ramsay, the state’s Attorney-General and a Christian minister choked back tears as he described his experiences of working with ‘converion therapy’ survivors, saying: “I have led congregations and communities of faith where people have sought refuge after [undergoing] conversion therapies.

“[The practices] have been done in the name of the church and even at times in the name of God. There is an insidious and clandestine manner in which these practices are carried out, mostly against children.”

He added: “An abuse of young people is not appropriately best covered by civil regulations. That is why criminal sanctions ought to apply.”