Sun Prairie City Council unanimously votes to ban conversion therapy

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis.– In a unanimous vote Tuesday, Sun Prairie’s City Council members passed an ordinance banning the practice of conversion therapy on minors in hopes of making Sun Prairie a more inclusive, welcoming place for all.

Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice that attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, and/or spiritual interventions. There is no reliable evidence that suggests that someone’s sexual orientation can be changed and medical institutions have historically claimed the practice is ineffective and harmful.

In 2017, a nondiscrimination ordinance was adopted by Sun Prairie City Council. Sun Prairie Mayor Paul Esser said this is just the next step in assuring that all are welcome in the City of Sun Prairie.

“Everybody is welcome in our community and we are not going to treat people any differently on account of things like sexual orientation, race, age, gender, any of those things,” Esser said.

The move makes Sun Prairie the 13th municipality in Wisconsin to ban the practice. Other municipalities that have enacted this ban include Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Eau Claire, Sheboygan, West Allis, Cudahy, Shorewood, Superior, Glendale, Appleton and Kenosha.

Esser first presented the ordinance to the Youth and Families Commission on Thursday, May 6. The commission voted in favor of the ordinance and recommended it for City Council’s approval.

Founder of People Against Conversion Therapy (PACT), Austin Kieler, of Milwaukee, has been working with municipalities around the state to get the practice banned in more places.

“Banning and ending conversion therapy should be a non-partisan issue. Conversion therapy is child abuse. It doesn’t work, we shouldn’t be trying to do it,” Kieler said.

Kieler founded PACT after the 2016 election when then Vice President Mike Pence expressed his support for conversion therapy. Kieler said he is also frustrated by the Wisconsin’s legislature failing to take action on banning the practice.

“While we are waiting for the state to come to their senses and take action on this horrendous practice, we don’t have to wait. We can take action ourselves,” he said.

Kieler met with the Milwaukee City Council in 2018 to ask for an ordinance to ban conversion therapy. Milwaukee became the first city in the state to do so. Now at 13 municipalities in Wisconsin who have banned the practice over the past three years, he hopes that by getting more municipalities on board, it will put more pressure on the state to take action

Kieler said many practitioners who still conduct conversion therapy do so in the dark which makes it difficult to quantify where and how often it’s happening. But he said he knows it is still happening because two of his friends experienced it and still feel the long-lasting effects of the trauma.

“Not only does it not work, because it doesn’t. Both of my friends are still queer, but the horrible harm and long-lasting effects and trauma it causes these people are extremely concerning,” Kieler said. “This is a practice that has to stop. It is 2021. There is no more room in Wisconsin or society at large for such incredibly archaic and harmful practices like conversion therapy.”

Esser said he had a personal connection to wanting to move forward with banning the ordinance in Sun Prairie. Esser’s oldest son is gay and his husband has a friend who experienced conversion therapy. That friend, Esser said, ended up divorcing his husband due to the long-lasting psychological and emotional trauma he still had from being exposed to it as a child.

“The consequences may be seen in later life. For children that are exposed to conversion therapy, instances of depression, drug abuse, STDs and other sexually transmitted diseases is much higher,” Esser said.

Esser assured the LGBTQ community that Sun Prairie is a place they can live, shop, recreate safely and be confident that their life values are supported by the community.