When trans teenager Leelah Alcorn took her own life in 2014, the conversion therapy survivor pleaded to “fix society.”
In the four years since her death, six Ohio cities have now heeded that call.
On Monday, the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood became the latest municipality to ban conversion therapy following a unanimous vote by its city council. Council members voted 7-0 to prohibit any attempt by medical providers to “cure” the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth.
The ordinance was proposed by Ward 4 Councilman Dan O’Malley earlier this year.
Although it’s unknown if there are conversion therapists operating in Cuyahoga County, O’Malley said the ordinance is intended to send a message to practitioners “that they are not welcome here.”
“A recent study by UCLA estimated that tens of thousands of kids will be subjected to this brutal practice,” the councilman said in a statement to INTO. “Every mainstream medical and scientific organization has stated that conversion therapy is not only ineffective, it’s dangerous.”
“As an elected official, I feel I have an obligation to protect children from that kind of harm,” he added.
Proponents of the ban cited Alcorn’s influence in inspiring action to protect LGBTQ youth across the state. A resident of Kings Mills in southern Ohio, the 17-year-old was forced into conversion therapy by her parents after coming out as transgender. That practice has been likened to “torture.”
Her final note urged readers to ensure other trans youth wouldn’t be subjected to the same treatment.
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” Alcorn said. “[…] My death needs to mean something.
Since 2014, the Buckeye State has become an unlikely leader in banning conversion therapy at the local level. A year after Alcorn’s message went viral, Cincinnati became the first city in the U.S. to ban conversion therapy. Supporters called it a “matter of public safety.”
Athens, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo quickly followed suit.
In fact, the only states with more municipalities barring the practice are Florida, where 20 cities have passed their own ordinances protecting LGBTQ youth, and New York, with seven. Across the country, more than 45 cities have outlawed the practice. Erie, Pa., is expected to be next.
Grant Stancliff, communications director at Equality Ohio, said he’s “thrilled” Alcorn’s message has resonated with so many people.
“I hope this also helps families, some of whom who may not even know better, learn that this form of treatment is harmful and look for supportive and proven therapeutic practices,” he claimed in an email to INTO. “I hope more cities listen to Leelah Alcorn’s words and ‘fix society, please.’”
In addition to encouraging more municipalities to take action against conversion therapy, advocates say the next step is to push Gov. John Kasich to sign a law banning the anti-LGBTQ treatment at the statewide level.
To date, just 14 states have enacted statewide laws barring orientation change efforts.
As Ohio moves toward comprehensive protections for LGBTQ youth, Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers claimed he was proud to see his city help lead the way.
“Lakewood has benefited from very thoughtful leadership from our city council,” Summers said in a statement to INTO. “Several members of our city council, past and present, are members of the LGBTQ community. Their understanding of the issues facing citizens everywhere have been shaped to protect our citizens in Lakewood.”
“The conversion therapy addition to our two-year-old human rights ordinance is a logical extension of protections that make sense and unfortunately, are necessary to protect vulnerable members of our community,” he added.
Lakewood passed an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in 2016 ensuring equal access in housing, employment, education, and public accommodation.
That vote was also unanimous.
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