Minnesota governor bans ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQ youths

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signing an executive order
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signs a ban on so-called conversion therapy at the state Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.
(Steve Karnowski / Associated Press)

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Thursday aimed at banning so-called conversion therapy, saying it was just a start and calling on the Legislature to make the ban permanent.

Walz said conversion therapy — the scientifically discredited practice of using therapy to “convert” LGBTQ people to heterosexuality or traditional gender expectations — is a “byzantine, tortuous practice” that’s not supported by any legitimate mental health organization. He said his order empowers state agencies to ensure that no Minnesotans younger than 18 are subjected to it and that insurance companies and state health plans don’t cover it.

“There’s no place for hate in this state, there’s no room for division,” Walz said at a signing ceremony just ahead of Pride Weekend. “Our LGBTQ+ community is part, and a huge part, of what it means to be one Minnesota. When they are hurt or put through this, we all hurt. And when they succeed, we all succeed.”


Walz’s order made Minnesota one of 24 states that, to varying degrees, ban mental health professionals from seeking to change anyone’s sexual orientation. Eleven Minnesota cities already have local bans, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Duluth.

Junior Avalos, 25, who identifies as nonbinary/queer, said at the ceremony that they hope the order lets LGBTQ young people know “that they get to live their authentic selves without repercussions or fear.” Avalos worked a fast-food job to pay for conversion therapy when they were 16 and said they are healing from the trauma.

“Because everywhere around me, not just from my peers but authority figures that I looked up to, I was being told that there was something wrong with me, that I was broken, that I didn’t deserve to be here,” Avalos said. “And all I ever wanted was to be accepted.”

The author of a high-profile measure to curb paid “conversion therapy,” which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation, said he is shelving his bill Friday in hopes of finding consensus with religious communities that vigorously opposed the proposal.

Aug. 31, 2018

Attempts to get a ban through the divided Legislature failed in 2019 amid Republican opposition. Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis said legislation was still necessary to ensure that a future governor doesn’t repeal the ban and to extend it to Minnesotans of all ages.

Conversion therapy, Dibble said, “happens every single day. There are dozens of providers in the Twin Cities alone that do this.” The senator, who is gay and said he spent years loathing himself and praying to be different, said the order sends a message to young LGBTQ Minnesotans.

“You are perfect,” Dibble said. “You are who you are meant to be. You do not have to change, and please don’t. You are a gift from God. Our state and our world is better because you are part of it. You are a part of us. You are a full member of Minnesota’s family, and beloved.”


Republican opponents include Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. He has come under criticism from his 30-year-old adult child, Genna Gazelka, who identifies as bigender. As a teenager, they were sent to a therapist opposed to same-sex relations and went public about their experience during the 2019 debate.

There may have been a time when the impulse to “cure” people of their homosexuality through psychological or spiritual intervention was accepted as an ethical course of action.

Feb. 26, 2014

Dibble said “more than a handful of Republican senators” who voted against the ban in 2019 have told him they would switch their votes if they had the opportunity to do it over again. Dibble made another push early in the 2020 session before the pandemic derailed the effort.

The majority leader’s spokeswoman said he had no comment Thursday.

The Minnesota Family Council called the order an example of “executive overreach” and an attack on the constitutional rights of patients, families and therapists.

“This executive order will not end so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ since professional standards in mental health care already did that years ago. Instead, this will ban young people experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria from getting the voluntary, compassionate care they need,” John Helmberger, chief executive of the organization, said in a statement.