Toledo City Council unanimously approved banning conversion therapy while declaring gender identity a protected class in the city, regardless of age.
During the same meeting Tuesday, council pushed back against recent incidents of prejudice and President Trump’s controversial immigration ban with a resolution striking at the spirit of the executive order that temporarily prohibited admissions from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa.
The conversion-therapy ban was lauded earlier in the day during a public hearing by supporters but was criticized by clergymen who asked if they would be prohibited from counseling people who are gay.
Conversion therapy, which is designed to change a person’s sexual orientation, has been discredited by the medical establishment and denounced by gay and transgender groups.
The law change, which states “no mental health provider shall engage in sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts with any person,” makes it a misdemeanor of the fourth degree to provide the therapy. Each day in violation is a separate offense — each with a maximum fine of $250.
Wesley Blood, a former pastor who works for the Northwest Ohio Baptist Association, questioned if religious counseling would be exempt.
“If a person comes to me and asks me what is the biblical position, I would be breaking the law saying ‘this is what the holy book teaches,’” Mr. Blood said.
Stephanie Tate, a Buddhist guiding teacher for Glass City Darma, stressed that there should not be an exemption for clergy to offer conversion therapy.
“There is more than enough data that it is harmful,” Ms. Tate said.
Council President Steven Steel, who sponsored the change to the city’s existing discrimination ordinance, said conversion therapy is a “public health risk” and a “public health menace” because of its ill-effects on those who undergo the treatment.
Mr. Steel added the law would apply to mental health providers and preclude clergy from the definition.
Others Tuesday urged councilmen to approve the law change.
“This law is necessary to protect the health and well-being of the citizens of Toledo,” said Alan Nichols, a University of Toledo Law School student.
Mr. Nichols called it an “admirable piece of legislation” that is unlikely to be enacted on the federal level, which is why it is needed on municipal and state levels.
Toledo’s law aims to protect anyone, regardless of age.
Mr. Nichols added Toledo is the first city to enact such an expansive conversion-therapy ban that does not only apply to minors.
The vote for the resolution “reaffirming Toledo as a welcoming, inclusive, and safe community for all residents” was also unanimous.
“With the action taken by the president in terms of prohibiting immigration into the country for a targeted group of people, and with the debates that are going to continue for some time, this is an opportunity for us to reaffirm the type of community we want to be,” said Councilman Peter Ujvagi, who came to America decades ago as a refugee from Hungary.
Mr. Ujvagi, sponsor of the resolution, said it was an effort by people “who feel strongly of having a welcoming community.”
The resolution does not mention President Trump or his executive order, which has been on hold pending legal challenge.
It reads: “We recognize and are deeply concerned that members of our community are feeling targeted and fearful, and that hate incidents have occurred in our community.”
Two hundred people supporting the resolution packed council chambers Tuesday. All stood while some crowded around the podium as speakers praised the resolution. Among them was a Syrian refugee family that relocated recently to Toledo. One speaker recalled her immigration to America years ago and how she has paid income taxes annually — a reference to speculation that President Trump has for years paid no federal income taxes.
The hundreds gathered for the safe community resolution also applauded when council approved the conversion therapy ban and prohibition against gender identity discrimination.
Deer kill approved
In other business, council for a second time cast votes on an ordinance to allow the Metroparks of the Toledo Area to conduct deer kills in Swan Creek Preserve Metropark in South Toledo and Middlegrounds Metropark near downtown — this time voting 8-4 in favor of allowing the kill.
It failed two weeks ago when council voted five in favor and six against changing city law to let “lawful official discharge of firearms” so sharpshooters could fire their rifles for the deer kills.
Councilmen Theresa Gabriel, Rob Ludeman, Larry Sykes, and Cecelia Adams again voted against the measure. Peter Ujvagi, who was not present two weeks ago; Tyrone Riley and Yvonne Harper, who both voted no two weeks ago, all voted in favor of the measure Tuesday along with the other councilmen in favor of the ordinance.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife approved the Metroparks’ request for a deer damage-control permit valid through March 31.
The Metroparks plans to kill as many as 50 white-tailed deer in Swan Creek Preserve Metropark. The kill is part of its ongoing effort to reduce ecological damage tied to an overabundance of deer in those protected areas.