Anchorage ban on conversion therapy inspires hope for young Alaskans
by liz rangel
Anchorage celebrates a big win for equality after becoming the first Alaskan city to ban “conversion therapy.” The ordinance passed would effectively ban any medical or mental health practices with the intent to change the gender identity or sexual orientation of a minor. The language used in the ordinance delineates those most at risk to the psychological abuse that is conversion therapy: underage youth.
“The broader needs of the community are that we need to protect children. That’s what it’s all about…” Assembly Member Christopher Constant stated on Wednesday, in support of the ordinance he sponsored with Assembly Chair Felix Rivera and Assembly Vice-Chair Austin Quinn-Davidson.
“Conversion therapy,” otherwise known as “reparative therapy,” has been continuously discredited and disproven by professionals. A 2010 study from San Francisco State University found that rejected LGBTQ youth face higher rates of depression, drug abuse, and suicide. Not only have Alaska families been misguided into pursuing a practice that will not work, they are actively causing irreparable damage to their children’s mental health.
“This has nothing to do with parental rights,” says Lillian Lennon, a local activist and survivor of conversion therapy. “This ordinance eliminates a form of child abuse. There will still be the opportunity for youth to seek counseling or affirming care that points them to their core beliefs. Now, parents and counselors cannot force their children into a therapy or practice young people do not consent to.” Ultimately, this ban gives our youth an opportunity to turn to their families for support, without fear of being forcibly subjected to an abusive practice. All the while, we pave the way for informed and meaningful dialogue between parents and youths.
While LGBTQ youths may still struggle to be accepted by their families, this ban offers them an opportunity to choose reconciliation in a community that rejects child abuse. Rather than focusing the conversation on treating an ailment that does not exist, young people have an opportunity to be affirmed at a time when they need it the most. The ordinance overwhelmingly passed 9-2, with Assembly members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy dissenting. The public hearing was flooded with oral and written testimonies from Alaskans sharing their lived experiences in an effort to protect Anchorage youth. This is one of what seems to be a series of victories for the local LGBTQ community.
This moment resembles the Anchorage Assembly’s 9-2 decision to include non-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation back in 2015 – a decision that would then be echoed by Juneau and Sitka within two years. The Fairbanks Assembly famously succeeded in this effort, only to have the ordinance blocked by Mayor Jim Matherly. Communities are fighting for equality and dignity all over the state, slowly but steadily protecting Alaskans from discrimination. But they cannot do it alone. Out of the 22 U.S. states that offer their residents non-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, Alaska is not yet one of them.
Liz Rangel is a senior at UAA studying Psychology, Communication, and Languages. Liz is a lifelong activist for Latinx, LGBTQIA, and women’s rights in Anchorage and hopes to advocate in the non-profit world following graduation.
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