Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed an executive order Thursday aiming to put an end to the practice of subjecting LGBTQ youth to “conversion therapy,” a discredited procedure for “turning” gay people straight.
The Midwestern state is now the 21st to ban conversion therapy for minors in some form.
“I would say Minnesota is a little more welcoming and a little more joyous today because of the work that everyone’s done,” Walz said after signing the order.
Legislation banning the practice passed the state’s Democrat-controlled House in 2019, but stalled out in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which is currently adjourned until January 2022.
“Today is a good day,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (D) said at the signing ceremony. She and the governor both noted that more needed to be done.
“We have to make these changes in the House and Senate so this can become law,” Flanagan said.
Walz said that he ultimately decided to make the change via executive order, which can be easily undone by subsequent administrations, because waiting for legislation to pass was actively harming children. The order prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding conversion therapy and prohibits health care providers from covering it.
“This was really hard on all of us. I felt like ... every day you wait might send another child through this,” he said.
State Sen. Scott Dibble, an openly gay Minneapolis Democrat, has been a leading proponent of the ban, citing in part his own experience growing up. Although he was never subject to conversion therapy ― also called “reparative therapy” ― Dibble said last year that he grew up “with the very unmistakable message that who and what I was was bad, sinful, socially undesirable.”
On Thursday, Dibble addressed “all the young Minnesotans who feel isolated, lonely, despairing, may be feeling afraid because of what they hear coming from powerful people,” telling them: “You are perfect.”
Two years ago, the public debate over conversion therapy in Minnesota’s legislature turned highly personal, The Minneapolis Star-Tribute reported, as both Democratic and Republican state senators shared emotional stories from their own lives.
Minnesota state Sen. Paul Gazelka, a conservative Christian serving as the Republican majority leader, told the paper how the issue hits close to home because one of his five children, Genna, identifies as bigender and uses the pronoun “they.”
Genna Gazelka said they had been sent to a therapist who opposed gay relationships as a teen and that it had a lasting negative impact on their life.
“I cry over this issue,” Sen. Gazelka told the Star-Tribune in May 2019.
At the time, he said he was working to find a compromise that prohibited conversion therapy techniques while appeasing religious conservatives. Such a compromise proved elusive.
The American Psychological Association says the so-called therapies have the potential to inflict serious harm on young people because they position same-sex attraction as a mental disorder, and often a moral failure. For some, the pressure can lead to depression, substance abuse and self-harm.
Clarification: Language in this article has been amended to better reflect the parameters of Gov. Walz’s executive order.