ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
New York City is generally considered a welcoming place for LGBTQ people. The city banned conversion therapy two years ago. That's the practice of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation. It has been linked to higher rates of suicide attempts for LGBTQ people. Now in a confusing move, the speaker of New York City Council, who is himself gay, is pushing for a repeal of that conversion therapy ban. Gwynne Hogan of member station WNYC joins me to explain.
GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Hi.
SHAPIRO: So why is New York City trying to undo this ban on conversion therapy?
HOGAN: It is a calculated legal strategy. The city is being sued over this ban. And advocates fear if the case works its way up to the Supreme Court and the city loses, there could be nationwide implications. At the same time, there are other laws on the books that already protect people. Here's Shannon Minter, the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
SHANNON MINTER: It makes so much sense for the city to do what it's doing. I mean, it just does not make sense to divert resources and money to fighting a law that we don't need.
HOGAN: His group supported the city when it wrote this ban two years ago. Now they support its repeal. And this goes back to a lawsuit in January. New York City was sued by a Brooklyn psychotherapist named David Schwartz. His attorneys say his freedom of speech is being infringed upon. The group that backs the case regularly brings lawsuits nationwide challenging abortion laws and protections for LGBTQ people on religious grounds.
SHAPIRO: If New York City goes through with this repeal, would that make conversion therapy legal?
HOGAN: Not exactly - state laws have changed since the city banned it, so now licensed professionals are forbidden from using conversion therapy on children across New York state. And adults can still sue under laws that guard against deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud, so the only thing that really changes if this repeal goes through is that the city can't fine people for providing conversion therapy. But it actually turns out no one has been fined under this law in the two years it's been in place because the city hadn't gotten any complaints.
SHAPIRO: You attended a city council hearing earlier today about the repeal. What was the tone? Was there pushback from members of the council or from the public?
HOGAN: No. You'd think there would be, but it was very uncontroversial. In fact, there were several LGBTQ advocacy groups. They all testified, all in support of repealing this ban. As you mentioned earlier, this repeal was introduced by the city council speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay. And it's people who are most opposed to conversion therapy who approached the city about repealing the ban in the first place.
SHAPIRO: And so what do the people who support conversion therapy say about this move? Are they calling it a win, even though the move is also supported by LGBTQ groups?
HOGAN: Alliance for Defending Freedom is taking this as a win. Their attorney, Roger Brooks, says this reaffirms what they've been saying all along; that Dr. Schwartz's constitutional rights were being violated. But I talked to Matthew Shirka, who is a survivor of conversion therapy and the head of a nationwide campaign to end it. He says he doesn't buy that.
MATTHEW SHIRKA: I believe this is a huge loss for them - a significant one. And I think the rug was pulled from under their feet in their national agenda to expand religious freedom rights against what, I believe, is human rights.
HOGAN: He says the real end goal of legal challenges like this one is to get a case before the Supreme Court and set national precedent, which won't be able to happen here. So the council didn't vote on this measure today, but it seems likely to pass in the coming weeks.
SHAPIRO: Gwynne Hogan is a reporter for member station WNYC in New York.
Thank you for explaining this to us.
HOGAN: Thank you.
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