Iowa Republicans want to ban local bans on conversion therapy

By Amie Rivers

January 17, 2024

Iowa Republicans are continuing their attack on Home Rule in the Legislature this year, this time going after bans on widely discredited conversion therapy for minors.

Iowa Sen. Sandy Salmon—a Republican from Janesville who represents Bremer, Butler, Chickasaw and most of Floyd counties—introduced Senate File 2037 last week. It passed out of a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday.

The bill would “prohibit counties and cities from regulating certain behavioral health and human services,” whether or not that’s by a licensed professional or not. It specifically includes “clergy” in its definition.

Iowa’s cities and counties, the bill reads, “shall not adopt or enforce [anything] to regulate behavioral health and human services … including professors, government employees acting within the scope of the position, students and trainees, clergy, and employees or volunteers of nonprofit organizations.”

Conversion therapy bans rare in Iowa

Conversion therapy or “praying away the gay” is any emotional or physical therapy used against LGBTQ+-identifying people to “cure” them of homosexuality or gender identity variance, according to WebMD. In extreme cases, conversion therapy can be violent or amount to torture.

The practice is largely not advertised as such, and is generally conducted by conservative religious organizations.

Not very many places have implemented bans on conversion therapy. Davenport did so in 2020. Linn County added its own ordinance in June 2022, which only applies to unincorporated areas, but not cities within it such as Cedar Rapids.

Waterloo attempted a ban last year but walked it back months later after being threatened by a lawsuit from an out-of-state anti-LGBTQ group.

Salmon likes to attack LGBTQ+ community

Salmon, who does not represent Waterloo, made a public comment against the ban during a city council meeting discussing the band.

“Families ought to be able to choose the counseling that best fits the goal they have for their minor child,” Salmon said. “Many families do not agree with the beliefs and viewpoints that have become popular in society today regarding sexuality.”

The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council has come out against conversion therapy for minors. Iowa is one of just 20 states with no statewide law banning the practice.

Salmon has introduced or sponsored several anti-LGBTQ bills in previous years during her time in the Iowa Senate and, before that, the Iowa House.

She has claimed those bills, many of which are now law, are not anti-LGBTQ, but were “passed for the safety and protection of youth.”

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

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