The Shorewood Solidarity Network has been working alongside Forge Milwaukee to ban conversion therapy in Shorewood. The practice is mainly projected towards youth of the LGBTQ community. It is intended to change the sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It’s a problematic practice. It’s dangerous, it’s harmful and it’s really just torture,” said Shelley Gregory, strategic project coordinator at Forge. “Conversion therapy is a practice that is not approved by any major medical organization, or mental health organization, in the country. And there are many of them, dozens and dozens and dozens of medical organizations, and they have all come out in the past several years and said that this practice of conversion therapy is problematic.”
There is a long history of conversion therapies globally, with connections to religion and other cultural institutions often supporting the practices.
“There’s a really long history of in the past of telling people who are LGBT, that they have a mental illness, or that they’re sick or that there’s something wrong with them, and that they need to be cured,” Gregory said. “And so, historically, there was this practice of conversion therapy.”
Conversion therapy has often been a torturous practice, along with more traditional methods such as talk therapy.
“The kinds of things that were done in the past, historically, to people as part of conversion therapy was using something called aversive treatment. Aversive treatment is a way of trying to get somebody to associate something negative with the behavior or an idea that you want to change. So one thing that was done to people is, for instance, young gay men might be shown erotic images of men in film, say, and while that’s happening, they might be receiving shock therapy. And they might be receiving shock therapy on their sex organs,” Gregory said. “It can also happen through talk therapy. But there were lots of other torturous practices that were used, like, ice pick lobotomies. So damaging parts of the brain or removing parts of the brain thought to, you know, affect sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Conversion therapy is proven to be ineffective. The different methods used are barbaric, and leave everlasting effects on those who experience it.
“Number one, it doesn’t work. And number two, it causes problems for the people who are subject to it, who are often young LGBT people,” Gregory said.
Julia Appel, junior, agrees with Gregory that not only is conversion therapy ineffective, but incredibly detrimental to health.
“First of all, it doesn’t even work, in fact it has been linked to an increase in suicide rates and depression and anxiety, because it is really a very harmful practice,” Appel said.
The links between conversion therapy and mental health problems have been supported by research and testimonials.
“The research is pretty definitive that conversion therapy can lead to really negative mental health outcomes. So experiencing that tends to do things like significantly increase prevalence of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. They have found correlations with an increase in substance use and abuse,” Gregory said. “The other thing they found a correlation with is an indication of suicidality in youth who experience conversion therapy. So there’s a number of youth— there’s correlation between experiencing conversion and completing suicide.”
Despite the fact that the nationwide medical community has supported conversion therapy as useless, there is still a lack in federal legislation prohibiting it. As a result, individual communities have begun taking the initiative to create their own bans.
“A number of municipalities and states around the country have recognized that this practice is very harmful to people— to patients. And so they have acted to make that practice not acceptable and illegal in their states and municipalities. The federal government has not acted on this,” said Chuck Carlson, member of the Shorewood Solidarity Network. “And so the idea in Shorewood is to join with those other communities, such as Milwaukee, such as Cudahy, such as Eau Claire in Wisconsin, and with the more and more local municipalities passing this kind of legislation that it might lead to state passing legislation, leading to hopefully a federal ban on this practice.”
The conversation started in early 2018 following the many initiatives to ban the practice all over Wisconsin.
“There have been some states in the country that have enacted some conversion therapy bans, just so that they can send a message, you know, this is not an okay practice, it’s harmful for you, it’s not okay for professionals to be engaging in this kind of treatment for people. And California was one of the first states to pass a ban. And in Wisconsin, Milwaukee passed a ban last year. And then, I think we have eight cities now in Wisconsin that have passed bans, and so Shorewood would be the ninth municipality in the state to pass a ban,” Gregory said.
Shorewood started looking at the issue last year, and just recently got serious about passing an ordinance.
“The Shorewood Village Board was presented with an ordinance about 14, 15 months ago that they did not act upon. And that sort of languished for that time. And maybe two months ago, some other members of the Shorewood community, together with some activists from Milwaukee, tried to talk to village board members to revive it. At that point, the committee has taken up the issue again and wanted to bring it to the full board, which would be able to vote and make it official,” Carlson said.
The motion in Shorewood to pass the ban comes with work the village has been doing with social justice as a whole.
“The summer before last, the village of Shorewood passed the resolution for justice and dignity, which laid out principles for treating community members fairly and equally. And so, as part of that effort groups were working to put together an ordinance that would be code and make in law those principles. And then as part of that overall, it was realized that there’s already quite a bit of existing legislation for banning conversion therapy, which sends a strong message to the LGBTQ community,” Carlson said. “And so, it was a group effort— particularly after Cudahy, which is not very well known for its progressive politics passed an ordinance banning it that showed that this ordinance— this is the kind of an ordinance that appeal to many different communities.”
There have been multiple meetings this year, many of which Gregory has been present at.
“I commented and gave them information. And we were just talking about giving them all the facts and the research on conversion therapy, and that it’s not a legitimate medical practice and all of the negative health outcomes for LGBTQ,” Gregory said. “And there were some other community members there as well, [and] some activists who are working in Milwaukee. We [also] had a Reverend from a church in Milwaukee […] and he spoke about when he was a child having been sent to conversion therapy by his parents because he was gay. And what a terrible experience, that was just, when you’re trying to figure out who you are, like we all are, and we especially are when we’re younger. Kind of try to figure out who you are, how you fit in, what your identities are, and then somebody tells you that this really core part of you that you feel is wrong, sick, and has to be fixed.”
The ordinance is intended to send a message to the LGBTQ community and reflect Shorewood’s values.
“Shorewood 20 years ago, and today, I think, is a place where people are thoughtful, and passionate for their fellow human beings. And they share values that I think would say that it’s not okay to subject kids to mental torture, because we’re uncomfortable with what tell us they are,” Gregory said. “I think that’s the population that most greatly benefits, obviously, from the ordinance. But I think it’s the population that benefits even from the symbolism of the ordinance. You know, we see them, we know you’re here. And we care about you, and we support you and we’re going to protect you, keep you safe. So I think you know, those messages are what’s really important, what’s really important to youth here.”
Further, the legislation would act as a message to the nation about protecting youth.
“In my opinion, there are larger issues, such as discrimination in housing, discrimination in health care, that can also be legislated to ensure that there is not discrimination. The conversion therapy ban, as from what I have discovered or looked found in my research, there’s currently not anyone practicing it in Shorewood. But it sends a strong message of validation and support for those members. That because as we’ve seen with the federal— at the federal level, the encoding discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community is happening. And so it’s up to the local communities to send the the exact opposite message,” Carlson said. “So even though in practice, it’s not stopping something that’s going on. In reality, it is sending a strong message of support to people in our community and others within the state.”
Thus, even though conversion therapy is no longer practiced in Shorewood, having the legislation is still imperative.
“I think it is more of a political statement more than anything else, because even though there are not any practitioners here, there are in surrounding areas,” Appel said. “Having legislation on the books matters; practicing gay conversion therapy doesn’t match up with our values.”
Though no formal action has been made, those involved are hopeful.
“I know that the committee had unanimously said that they would recommend that the full village board consider and pass an ordinance to ban conversion therapy. I’m very, very hopeful that the village board which has had this legislation in front of them for over 15 months would move on it,” Carlson said.