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Minnesota Governor restricts anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, pushes Legislature for ban

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order restricting conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ minors, but urged the politically divided Legislature to pass an outright ban into law.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, July 15, 2021 signs an executive order restricting conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ minors in the state. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, July 15 signed an executive order restricting what he called the "Byzantine, tortuous practice" of conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ minors.

Conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparative therapy,” is a form of intervention in which a practitioner attempts to change a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation . According to the American Medical Association , the practice can result in "significant psychological distress," depression, anxiety, self-blame, lowered self-esteem, sexual dysfunction and more, and LGBTQ+ are particularly vulnerable.

“As a society, we must object to any alleged ‘treatment’ or ‘therapy’ that attempts to tell our children that they need to change in order to be deserving of love or acceptance,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said Thursday. “Our kids deserve to grow up in a state that values them for who they are, not one that tries to change them.”

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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Thursday, July 15, 2021 speaks to reporters before Gov. Tim Walz signs an executive order restricting conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ minors in the state. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service

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After Walz signed the order, the Minnesota Medical Association released a statement applauding the decision, saying, “So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is not therapy at all.”

According to Walz, 23 other states in the country have banned or restricted conversion therapy, and numerous municipal governments in Minnesota have banned the practice locally.

But Thursday’s executive order is not an outright ban on the practice as a whole statewide, with Walz only holding the authority to issue directives to state agencies under his jurisdiction. He and other lawmakers and advocates Thursday emphasized that in order for conversion therapy to be outright banned, the politically divided state Legislature needs to pass a bill.

“Our real goal needs to be to just outright ban this discredited practice,” Walz said. “Do it through the legislative process and do it for all Minnesotans. But today is the first step. Protect our minors. Protect our most vulnerable.”

Walz added that he and advocacy groups had hoped the political tide was shifting and that the bill could get through the legislative process, but “it became apparent after this legislative session that those roadblocks were there.” So he decided to take the executive action he could.

“I felt like the question was, every day we wait, it might send another child through this,” he said. “That was a really difficult decision. I think all of us got to a point where we just couldn’t wait another day.”

Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, who has pushed for an outright conversion therapy ban in the Legislature, on Thursday urged his Republican colleagues to "bring it" and hold public hearings and debates on a bill.

"If the Senate leadership wants to make an issue of this, we can have that conversation in front of the public because the public, they know that this causes active harm," he said.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, July 15, 2021 speaks to reporters before signing an executive order restricting conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ minors in the state. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service

Under Walz’s executive order, the Minnesota Dept. of Human Services will no longer pay providers for conversion therapy services through state health care programs like Medicaid. The DOH will also write a report on the public health impacts of conversion therapy, and, along with the Dept. of Commerce, request statements from health maintenance organizations and insurance companies attesting that they will not cover conversion therapy. The departments will also “engage in rulemaking as necessary to restrict coverage of conversion therapy.”

The state Dept. of Human Rights will also begin investigating and pursuing civil enforcement actions against health care providers alleged to engage in discriminatory practices related to conversion therapy.

Thursday’s executive order comes amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being pushed in state Legislatures throughout the country, including in the neighboring Dakotas. Asked about anti-LGBTQ+ bills such as transgender student athlete bans and so-called bathroom bills, Walz said his “message on this is simple: Never in Minnesota.”

“Never in Minnesota will we go down that road,” he said. “Never in Minnesota will we use — especially what they’ve done now, despicably — our transgender youth as a political football trying to fight some type of bizarre culture war we know they’re doing. We know they’re harmful.”

If you are a young LGBTQ+ person in crisis, you can call The Trevor Project's hotline at 1-866-488-7386.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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