Morgantown, WV

Morgantown, WV bans youth conversion therapy, becomes 99th U.S. community or county

Megan Hippler

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The LGBTQ youth of Morgantown, West Virginia can breathe a little easier this week.

Morgantown City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ban the dangerous, discredited, pseudo-scientific practice of conversion therapy in youths.

The amendment to the city’s ordinances bans licensed medical practitioners or mental health providers from intentionally trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity as part of their medical care.

“We know that at best conversion therapy doesn't work, it's ineffective, and at worst it can be deadly for LGBTQ people, especially young people,” Mollie Kennedy of the ACLU of West Virginia told the Council Tuesday night, “so I think all around this is just a really important step in the right direction.”

The majority of accredited health organizations in the United States and Cornell University’s literary review of 47 peer-reviewed studies conclude that conversion therapy is unsuccessful. It does not change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, participants, even those who undergo the practice willingly, are left with increased rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, intimacy issues, and self-harm.

With the passage of the amendment, Morgantown becomes the second city in West Virginia to pass such a ban, after the state’s largest city, Charleston, passed an ordinance in August. Morgantown also becomes the 99th American municipality, community, or county to have some form of conversion therapy ban passed, but a decision in 2020 by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned any local bans in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Twenty U.S. states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico have some form of restriction on conversion therapy, ranging from the prohibition of state funds being used for conversion therapy in minors to Washington D.C.’s ban that includes adults under guardianship or conservatorship arrangements.

Fairness West Virginia, a civil advocacy group for LGBT West Virginians, has been sponsoring a bill at the State Legislature calling for a state-wide ban on licensed health providers practicing conversion therapy in minors. The passage of the Youth Mental Health Protection Act would allow for harsher penalties for medical practitioners found in violation of the law, including the loss of their medical license. Counties and municipalities do not have the power to revoke medical licenses.

A state-wide ban would also provide further protections for the LGBTQ youth in Morgantown. This week’s amendment to the city’s ordinances only affects medical practitioners within the city limits, which is certainly a victory for West Virginia’s third largest city, but determined parents or guardians would only need to find a willing practitioner in the next town or suburb. If Morgantown’s ordinance is similar to Charleston’s, it also does not restrict medical practitioners and mental health providers from speaking openly about their views on conversion therapy, offering additional information of their choosing, or providing referrals to practitioners who can attempt conversion therapy as part of their medical care without facing a fine.

Still, Morgantown’s ordinance is a victory for the LGBTQ community.

“This is about protecting the wellbeing and mental health of vulnerable children,” Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia said. “Survivors are typically left with years of trauma to overcome, stemming from an unscientific practice they never had a choice to receive. LGBTQ kids are worthy of love and support just the way they are, and this law affirms that.”

With a state-wide ban in the Mountain State likely to take some time, Fairness West Virginia encourages anyone who would like to see conversion therapy banned in their communities to reach out for support and guidance.

Now that West Virginia’s first and third largest cities with youth conversion therapy bans in their books, perhaps it’s time for people to turn their attention to Number Two: Huntington.

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Megan Hippler writes about West Virginia humanities. Her work has appeared in Orion, Seamwork, and PopSugar.

Charleston, WV
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