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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 16, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 51
ERW takes conversion therapy ban on the road
Section One
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ERW takes conversion therapy ban on the road

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Equal Rights Washington (ERW) will build on its victory in getting the Seattle City Council to ban conversion therapy, Executive Director Monisha Harrell told a Town Hall forum on December 11, and try to pass similar ordinances in many other Washington cities.

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously on August 2 to prohibit conversion therapy for minors with the city limits and impose hefty fines on violators. ERW proposed the local ordinance because a bill banning the practice has been stalled for years in the state legislature.

'We've always wanted to pursue legislation against conversion therapy on a statewide level,' Harrell explained to the SGN.

'That's more comprehensive, and the state deals with licenses. Cities and municipalities can't suspend the licenses of people who practice conversion therapy.

'But cities can make it illegal, and they can fine people who do this. A good stiff fine, like [the] $1,000 fine in the Seattle ordinance. I'd love to take away their licenses, but if we can't, we can at least make it illegal and fine them.'

LGBT, labor, and environmental activists had hoped that the 2016 election would break the deadlock in Olympia, where Democrats have a slim majority in the state House, but Republicans control the state Senate. That split has been the death of many progressive proposals, including the conversion therapy ban.

'I was hoping - many people were hoping - for a better legislative makeup than we got,' Harrell said. 'But we still have to do something to protect as many of our youth as possible.'

The election also brought Donald Trump to power on a national level. That means LGBT rights groups will no longer get a sympathetic hearing in the other Washington.

It all adds up to a new strategy, Harrell says, what she calls 'a patchwork solution,' where local jurisdictions pass protections for their LGBT residents. And ERW already has a plan to do it, she added.

'Seattle was a great first city [to ban conversion therapy].' Harrell explained. 'It has more resources, it has an office of civil rights - which many cities don't have - it has a city attorney we could work with. In other cities we'll have to adapt the Seattle model, to see how enforcement would work. Seattle already had the resources to enforce it.

'We'll have to see where we can gain traction outside of Western Washington. We'd look at places that can provide some resources for enforcement. Our criterion will be 'Do we have a foothold in local leadership?' It may be only one councilmember, but if there's one person willing to bring it up with their peers, that's what we're looking for.'

One of the factors that made ERW successful in Seattle was their existing relationships with many City Councilmembers. Harrell told the SGN that over the years, they have built similar relationships with officials in other local jurisdictions.

'It's been a deliberate strategy ERW has been developing for a while now,' Harrell said, 'building relationships with local electeds throughout the state.

'For example, this year we endorsed in every legislative district across the state. People said 'Well, why did you do that if you're based in Seattle?' But this is why - to start to have conversations with local officials.'

Harrell said she expected movement on ordinances in other cities 'within the next six months,' depending on the advice ERW gets from friendly local officials.

'We may need a longer lead time in some cities,' she continued. 'It may take longer to bring the issue up for public discussion.

'Our efforts will be both east and west of the mountains. Maybe it will take two years in Eastern Washington, but in the west it can be done sooner.'

Harrell told the SGN she hopes ERW's campaign for local conversion therapy bans will reinvigorate LGBT activists.

'What I've heard from a lot of people over the last couple of years is this: 'Oh, we've arrived, we're kind of done with the activism piece.' For people who've let their guard down a little bit, I hope they will recommit to their statewide organizations. That's where the wins are going to be.

'I think the election does embolden the opposition. The Vice President is a strong supporter of conversion therapy.

'They are emboldened, so we must be bold in the way we fight as well.'

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