NewsLocal News


Jackson County conversion-therapy ban fails despite emotional discussion

Jackson County Court
Posted at 5:47 PM, Mar 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-21 17:02:38-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Emotional testimony Monday from Jackson County Legislator Jalen Anderson was not enough to sway colleagues into passing a conversion-therapy ban in the county.

Ordinance 5711 failed on despite 5-1 vote after a procedural effort bumped the number of votes required for passage from five to six. Three legislators abstained.

First District Legislator Manny Abarca IV plans to reintroduce legislation again next week to ban conversion therapy for minors.

Abarca and Anderson had urged their colleagues to pass the ban on the practice, which is also known as reparative therapy or “ex-gay” therapy, The method, often based on religious principles and with the goal of altering a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, has been scientifically discredited.

Vice Chair Megan Marshall, who voted for the ordinance, called out fellow Legislator Sean Smith for "ignorant" and "dangerous" opposition to the ban based on his belief that sexual orientation is a choice.

I am deeply disappointed today’s vote to ban conversion therapy in Jackson County fell short. Our duty to protect the most vulnerable is non-negotiable. It is particularly concerning to see that some members of the legislature still do not understand that sexual orientation is not a choice.

Legislator Shaun [sic] Smith's efforts to mischaracterize sexual orientation as a preference are not only ignorant but also dangerous.

Legislator Jalen Anderson's courageous story is a reminder that conversion therapy is not just ineffective, it can have devastating and long-lasting consequences.

We must prioritize the well-being and dignity of all members of our community. We cannot allow bigotry and discrimination to be codified into our laws. We must work to ensure that every person in Jackson County is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, regardless of their sexual orientation. As a legislative body, it is our responsibility to protect and advocate for all members of our community, and we must continue to do so without fail.
Megan Marshall, vice chair of the Jackson County Legislature

Anderson gave searing testimony about an ordeal he suffered when he was a student at a now-closed Independence Christian school.

He said conversion therapy is child abuse and shared for the first time in pubic about what he endured from ages 12 to 14 at the school.

Anderson said he was told by school officials that his voice was not low enough, his family was led by a single mother and that he can't go through life as a sissy.

Three other students, a female and two males, also were subjected to the abuse, he said. It included being forced to sit for long periods of time in the dark, having hot water poured over them and the recitation of Bible verses.

Anderson said the other three people he was subjected to "therapy" with were all gay and later committed suicide.

He said the hours spent suffering those and other indignities caused him to miss classes. Staff at the school told Anderson that he must hate himself unless he repented.

Abarca told his fellow legislatures they must lead on this issue.

Jackson County executive Frank White Jr. said he supports banning conversion therapy and was unhappy with Monday's vote.

I am disappointed that the Jackson County Legislature failed to send a clear message today that LGBTQ+ youth should be valued, respected and treated with the same dignity that every human being deserves. Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that is discredited by every major medical and health organization. I commend Legislator Jalen Anderson for publicly pouring his heart out, sharing his very moving story, and letting children know they’re not alone. I encourage anyone who cares about protecting kids to attend the county legislative meetings until the legislation is passed and I sign it into law.
Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr.

Kansas City, Missouri, outlawed conversion therapy in November 2019 and Independence followed suit two years later.

Roeland Park and Prairie Village are among the Johnson County cities where the practice has been banned.

KSHB Digital In-Depth Reporter Tod Palmer contributed to this report.