Columbia City Council unanimously approves first reading of conversion therapy ban

Updated: May. 4, 2021 at 7:07 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday the Columbia City Council gave a proposed ordinance that would outlaw conversion therapy for minors within the city its first approval.

The council unanimously moved the ordinance to a second reading. It defines conversion therapy or reparative therapy as:

“...any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

The practice is discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and has been found harmful to the mental health of those it is practiced on.

The ordinance would ban licensed providers (i.e. counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists) from providing conversion therapy to a child under the age of 18 if they are being paid for their services.

A violation of the ordinance would carry up to a $500 fine and would be considered a civil infraction.

LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign scores major municipalities across the nation and posts report cards on their policies and practices.

It monitors eight cities in South Carolina, and its 2020 scorecards report no laws protecting youth from conversion therapy, nor any on the state level.

Council members approved the measure without discussion. At-Large Councilwoman Tameika Isaac-Devine requested the ordinance.

It states the council has the responsibility to protect minors within the city from the psychological, emotional, and potentially physical harms that the therapy could present.

Former Columbia City Council candidate, LGBTQ+ advocate, and founder of Agape Table Dylan Gunnels said he welcomed the introduction of the ordinance.

Gunnels said he was subjected to conversion therapy for a year in his early teens and has been working with former political opponent At-Large Councilman Howard Duvall on the issue.

“The goal of conversion therapy is that you will convert, that you will change who you innately are, and we just simply can’t do that, it’s even more psychologically damaging,” he said.

Gunnels said in his work at Agape Table, he often finds conversion therapy flies under the radar, at unlicensed or religious-based organizations, something the ordinance does not directly address.

“You’re not necessarily going to find a professional clinic that’s going to proudly say that this is the work that they do. Oftentimes again it flies under the radar at faith-based or religious institutions and that one’s hard for me. I need to say that. I consider myself a person of faith. I am a queer person of faith fighting to be in that space.”

WIS reached out to two prominent conversion therapy organizations for a statement, which neither has yet provided.

The proposed ordinance comes as the legislature has debated whether to include LGBTQ as a protected community in pending hate crimes legislation and a ban on transgender athletes playing in female school sports.


The UCLA Williams Institute School of Law estimates 698,000 adults in the U.S. have received conversion therapy as of June 2019.

The council will need to give the ordinance a second reading before it can be approved.

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