Bill to prohibit local conversion therapy bans advances in Iowa Senate

Madeleine Charis King. More than a thousand Iowans gathered at the Capitol in 2023 to protest multiple bills introduced in the state Legislature that targeted LGBTQ people. / Madeleine Charis King. Más de mil de habitantes de Iowa se reunieron en el Capitolio en 2023 para protestar contra los múltiples proyectos de ley presentados en la Legislatura estatal dirigidos contra las personas LGBTQ.

By Katarina Sostaric, Iowa Public Radio

A Republican-backed bill that would prevent cities and counties from banning conversion therapy advanced Wednesday in the Iowa Senate.

Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice that aims to convert people to being heterosexual or cisgender, and many states have banned it for minors.


In Iowa, Davenport and Linn County ban conversion therapy, and Waterloo repealed its ban last year after being threatened with a lawsuit by a Christian conservative group.

Chuck Hurley, a lobbyist for The Family Leader, said Waterloo’s ordinance infringed on the First Amendment and the state’s power to license therapists.

“So I think it’s unwise to encourage any municipality in Iowa to pass something that they’re going to lose on the First Amendment—incur costs, lose, not a good idea,” he said.

Keenan Crow, a lobbyist for the LGBTQ rights group One Iowa, said conversion therapy is dangerous.

“I’ve been told over and over again that we don’t need to address conversion therapy because it isn’t happening in Iowa,” they said. “It would seem that this legislation is an implicit admission that not only is it happening, but that the Legislature wants it to happen and, in fact, wants to grant conversion therapists additional protections.”


The bill does not explicitly mention conversion therapy. But it would prohibit counties and cities from regulating behavioral health and human services that are subject to state licensing or performed by people who are exempt from licensing, which would include conversion therapy.


A lobbyist for Iowa’s chapter of the National Association of Social Workers said the bill could have unintended consequences for local mental health programs.

Sen. Jesse Green, R-Boone, and Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, voted to advance the bill to the full Senate Local Government Committee.

“Democrats have touted for years that government should not get between a patient and a provider, and so in this bill, I agree with that sentiment,” Green said.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said conversion therapy doesn’t work and has been discredited by major health associations.

“So if a city like Waterloo steps into the void trying to address the failure of the state to protect young people, they are doing consumer protection so that children are not subject to that kind of abuse, that kind of quackery, that kind of brainwashing,” he said.

A few years ago, some Republican lawmakers made an effort to ban conversion therapy for minors in the whole state, but the bill never passed.

Since then, the GOP-led Legislature has banned gender-affirming care for transgender minors, barred transgender girls and women from competing in sports that align with their gender identity, and restricted discussions of LGBTQ topics in schools before seventh grade.

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