Committee sends ban on conversion therapy to full council for approval

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council committee handling civil rights issues unanimously approved a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would ban gay conversion therapy for minors in the city.

The ordinance must be adopted by the full City Council before it would go into effect.

The controversial practice, aimed at turning gay people straight, has been banned in California, Oregon, Illinois, New Jersey, Vermont and the District of Columbia. In December, Cincinnati became the first city to enact such a ban.

The Washington state Legislature refused to consider the bill when it was brought up in 2015.

Therapies have sometimes involved electric shock and ice baths.

"It's absolutely offensive to me, that instead of providing these children, who are going through perhaps a moment of confusion … instead of providing them the support that they need, there are people out there who believe it's appropriate to convince these children that their same-sex orientation is somehow a disease, or an illness, or something that can be cured. And I think that that does a disservice," said Seattle Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, who sponsored the ordinance.

The ordinance calls for a $500 fine for a first-time offense, and $1,000 fine after that.  This would be considered a civil violation.

Anyone found advertising conversion therapy to minors would be considered false and deceptive advertising, which is a misdemeanor, subject to a maximum $300 fine or 90 days imprisonment, or both.

The city’s Office of Civil Rights would enforce the rule.

The bill specifically applies to licensed mental health and medical professionals. Anyone can still seek guidance from religious leaders in any capacity they choose.

The full City Council is scheduled to consider the final adoption of the legislation at 2 p.m. Monday.

Kevin Amos, who came to the committee hearing Tuesday morning, said the measure would infringe on parental rights.

“Just because you have alternative lifestyles that are now really being pushed upon us, that now we have to basically suspend how we raise our kids,” Amos said.

Amos said that while he understands the ordinance would not dictate what religious groups may do, he worries they may suffer restrictions in the future.

“This ordinance is just another fight for the gay mafia to basically push their views,” he said.

But Danni Askini, who experienced conversion therapy, said this is not about parental rights.

“It’s really about protecting consumers, and ensuring that consumers have the best advice and medical and mental health care that this city can ensure they can get,” she said.

Askini told KIRO 7 she was assigned male at birth, but later transitioned into a woman. At the age of 12, she said, her supportive parents got bad advice from a school counselor to send her to conversion therapy.

“I was told that the way I talked wasn’t appropriate, that the way I dressed was inappropriate, that I shouldn’t have any female friends, and my parents saw how much it made me suffer,” Askini said.

She said she was suicidal and lasted 10 months in that type of therapy before her parents pulled her out.

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez said there is little data to show exactly how prevalent this therapy is in Seattle, but groups that help LGBTQ youth in Seattle said many young people have described receiving such therapy through individual practitioners.