Repeal of LGBTQ+ ‘Conversion Therapy’ Ban in Iowa Reflects Wider Conservative Movement

by Gabriel Martinez
Conversion Therapy Ban Repeal

In a significant legal development, one of Iowa’s major cities has lifted its prohibition on “conversion therapy,” a practice discredited for its attempt to alter an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counseling. This action followed threats of legal proceedings from Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organization, and signifies a broader national trend aimed at rolling back protections for LGBTQ+ minors.

The City Council in Waterloo decided to revoke its earlier ban after receiving a legal warning from Liberty Counsel on June 30, urging the city to rescind the ordinance by August 1, or face further legal actions. The ordinance had been put in place in May.

Liberty Counsel, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, contends that the Waterloo ordinance violates First Amendment rights concerning free speech. Representing a local therapist concerned about the ordinance’s impact on counseling practices, Mat Staver, the founder and chair of Liberty Counsel, indicated in an interview that future legal actions targeting states are imminent.

Across the United States, including in Iowa, there is a rising movement to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ minors. This involves the imposition of restrictions related to gender and sexuality in educational settings, youth sports, and healthcare. Liberty Counsel has previously been instrumental in overturning similar bans in Florida, identifying itself as a Christian ministry aimed at “restoring the culture through the promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and family values.”

Mainstream medical and psychiatric associations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, have denounced conversion therapy. Their objections are based on research indicating that the practice can lead to an elevated risk of depression and suicide.

Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University and a key contributor to the psychiatric association’s diagnostic manual, remarked that there is a consensus within the mental health community opposing conversion therapy on both ethical and scientific grounds.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy think tank, 22 states along with Washington, D.C., have laws that prohibit mental health professionals from attempting to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In 13 states, including Iowa, some local governments have instituted their own regulations.

The national debate over conversion therapy could reach a pivotal moment in the near future, depending on whether the U.S. Supreme Court decides to review an appeal by Brian Tingley, a Washington state therapist whose legal challenge was previously dismissed. Prior rulings on similar matters may provide a legal foundation for this case.

Legal analysts believe that varying federal judgments on the issue, such as those in Washington and Florida, might compel the Supreme Court to give its verdict on the matter, making it yet another focal point concerning LGBTQ+ rights.

Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel is optimistic that the Supreme Court will ultimately invalidate such bans. He revealed that Liberty Counsel has immediate plans to initiate legal action against statewide prohibitions.

In Iowa, past legislative efforts for instituting conversion therapy bans have been unsuccessful. Damian Thompson, public policy director at Iowa Safe Schools, an organization championing the rights of LGBTQ+ minors, highlighted that various laws have recently been enacted in Iowa and other states to limit discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, restrict the facilities transgender students may use, and prohibit specific medical treatments for transgender minors. Numerous legal challenges against these laws are currently underway.

The Republican stance on these issues underscores their strategy to affirm parental rights and safeguard children, which is becoming a cornerstone issue for the 2024 Republican presidential candidates. However, many parents and advocates express growing concern over the diminishing rights and protections for LGBTQ+ minors.

In Waterloo, where the repeal was enacted, Councilor Jonathan Grieder and Damian Thompson of Iowa Safe Schools had drafted the now-overturned ordinance. They had been motivated by similar statewide efforts that had stalled. The Waterloo City Council initially passed the ban with a 6-1 vote in May, but faced with impending legal costs, they reversed it with a 4-3 vote.

At the council meeting before the vote, Archer Trip, a local resident and survivor of conversion therapy, argued in favor of maintaining the ban for the sake of protecting other vulnerable individuals. Archer’s twin sister, Nic Trip, also testified about the potential hazards of parental decisions concerning their children’s well-being.

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart acknowledged the difficult decision facing the council due to “the threat of impending litigation.”

The move was met with disappointment by Thompson of Iowa Safe Schools, who lamented that the issue had been transformed from a matter of “common sense” to a “culture war” by far-right groups. Thompson vowed to continue advocating for local bans, despite the growing success of conservative groups in challenging them.

Thompson concluded, “The real tragedy here is that while this issue has turned into a political battleground, it’s the vulnerable children who are most at risk of suffering lifelong trauma.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Conversion Therapy Ban Repeal

What led to the repeal of the “conversion therapy” ban in Waterloo, Iowa?

The repeal was initiated after Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organization, threatened legal action against the city. The organization argued that the ban infringed upon First Amendment rights concerning free speech.

What is the stance of medical associations on “conversion therapy”?

Mainstream medical associations like the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association strongly oppose conversion therapy. They cite research indicating that the practice increases the risk of depression and suicide among those subjected to it.

Are there any other states where similar bans have been lifted?

Yes, Liberty Counsel has previously been successful in overturning similar bans in Florida. Their efforts are part of a broader national trend to challenge LGBTQ+ protections.

What is the broader national context surrounding this repeal?

The repeal is part of a growing conservative movement aimed at limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ minors across various domains, including education, youth sports, and healthcare.

What are the legal grounds upon which Liberty Counsel is challenging these bans?

Liberty Counsel argues that such bans violate the constitutional right to free speech. They have represented therapists who express concerns about how these bans impact their practice of counseling.

Could the U.S. Supreme Court play a role in this issue in the future?

Yes, there is a potential for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue, particularly if it decides to hear the appeal of Brian Tingley, a Washington state therapist whose legal challenge against a similar ban was dismissed.

How have legislative efforts to institute conversion therapy bans fared in Iowa?

Past legislative efforts in Iowa have been unsuccessful. The last time there was a concerted effort for a statewide ban was in 2020, but the bills did not make it out of subcommittees.

What repercussions are being seen in educational and healthcare settings due to these efforts?

Laws have been enacted in various states, including Iowa, to limit discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, restrict facilities for transgender students, and prohibit certain medical treatments for transgender minors.

What are the political implications of this issue?

The issue is becoming a cornerstone for the 2024 Republican presidential candidates, who argue that laws like these are designed to affirm parental rights and protect children.

What are the concerns of advocates and parents regarding these legal developments?

Many parents and advocates are increasingly concerned about the erosion of rights and protections for LGBTQ+ minors. They fear that the rollback of such protections exposes vulnerable individuals to lifelong trauma.

More about Conversion Therapy Ban Repeal

  • American Medical Association’s Stance on Conversion Therapy
  • American Psychiatric Association on LGBTQ+ Issues
  • Liberty Counsel Official Website
  • Movement Advancement Project’s Data on Conversion Therapy Bans
  • U.S. Supreme Court Decisions on Free Speech
  • UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute Research
  • Iowa Safe Schools Advocacy
  • History of Conversion Therapy Legislation in Florida

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Tom H. August 26, 2023 - 1:18 am

So now, we have a legal precedent that may encourage other cities and states to do the same. Really unsettling trend.

Sarah W. August 26, 2023 - 1:43 am

Wow, really can’t believe that they would repeal such an important ban. Conversion therapy has been discredited by so many credible organizations. What are we going back in time or something?

Mike O. August 26, 2023 - 4:11 pm

its all about free speech. Why should the government dictate what kind of therapy one should or should not get? But, yeah, there’s a fine line when it comes to minors.

Jenna F. August 26, 2023 - 4:28 pm

The legal grounds for this are shaky at best. Invoking free speech to defend a harmful practice? C’mon now, that’s just wrong.

Alex P. August 26, 2023 - 8:58 pm

This is so alarming. We’re talking about the mental health of kids here. Mainstream medicine opposes this for a reason. So why’s it being taken so lightly?


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