Due to Virginia law, the ban can’t be enforced. But by passing it, Richmond City Council still sends a powerful message.
On Monday, Richmond’s City Council passed a resolution enacting a ban on conversion therapy within the city. The resolution, which is non-binding, was proposed by Mayor Levar Stoney, and received unanimous support from the nine members of City Council.
Conversion therapy, as many of us in Virginia’s LGBTQ community know all too well, is the practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through therapeutic processes that are unscientific and often religiously based. A 2018 study published in the Journal Of Homosexuality found that participants in the study who’d undergone conversion therapy were five times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who hadn’t.
Over the past year, three different state boards regulating mental health caregivers have banned the practice by refusing approval for those who engage in conversion therapy. However, multiple attempts at passing bills in the General Assembly to ban conversion therapy in Virginia outright have failed in the House Of Delegates. Most recently in 2019’s General Assembly, a Senate bill introduced by 23rd District Virginia Senator Stephen D. Newman passed the Senate, but failed to make it out of committee in the House Of Delegates.
In a statement, Mayor Stoney praised the City Council’s decision, saying, “I am proud that members of Richmond’s City Council joined me in opposing the inhumane and regressive practice of conversion therapy and affirming the sexual orientation and identities of all Richmonders.”
The vote is, unfortunately, non-binding and symbolic. As a Dillon Rule state, Virginia requires any law passed by localities within the Commonwealth to align exactly with the laws passed by the state government. Therefore, without the passage of a state law banning conversion therapy, the City of Richmond has no legal ability to enforce a ban within city limits.
Nonetheless, activists were pleased by the verdict. Speaking to WTVR, Equality Virginia Deputy Director Vee Lamneck pointed out that this decision was a first in Virginia, and remains important despite its symbolic nature.
Conversion therapy survivor Adam Trimmer, who runs the conversion therapy survivors support group Love Actually Won RVA and is the Virginia ambassador for national anti-conversion therapy campaign Born Perfect, spoke of his experience during the public comment period for City Council’s resolution, and was thankful that they went on to pass the resolution.
“We are finally being heard and hopefully this can stop happening to our community,” he told WTVR. “I hope that the members of the General Assembly see this, and I hope they see [that] Mayor Stoney and City of Richmond support our efforts to protect the LGBTQ+ youth.”
Photo: GayRVA archives