City of La Crosse sued over conversion therapy ban

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court.(WEAU)
Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 10:46 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WEAU) - The City of La Crosse is being sued in federal court over its ordinance banning conversion therapy.

A complaint was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

The ordinance prohibits medical professionals from using conversion therapy services on any child in the City of La Crosse. It was passed in September by the La Crosse City Council.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Joy Buchman, the owner of Kinsman Redeemer Counseling Center, LLC and a licensed mental health professional. According to a release from WILL, the ordinance penalizes medical or mental health professionals if they express certain viewpoints when counseling children as it relates to gender identity or sexual orientation. A $1,000 citation can be written for each violation, and those who don’t follow the ordinance can be referred to the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services for investigation and potential sanctions.

“The City of La Crosse is under the mistaken impression that it can simply punish citizens who dare to voice officially disfavored viewpoints on public issues of critical importance,” Anthony LoCoco, WILL Deputy Counsel, said in a release. “The First Amendment prohibits exactly this kind of big-government bullying.”

Buchman said her mission is to “provide healing and guidance to anyone who comes to me for help.”

“Government officials should not be allowed to police the private conversations I have with clients in need and then punish me for saying something they don’t like,” Buchman said in a release.

WILL said the lawsuit alleges the City of La Crosse has “no power to pick and choose which viewpoints are permissible” when it comes to the discussions between patients and medical professionals. The lawsuit also states that the ordinance violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Wisconsin Constitution, and is preempted by state law.

“Attempts to falsely paint as hateful those who share good-faith disagreements on matters going to the core of what it means to be human won’t salvage the City’s position,” LoCoco said.

The lawsuit is requesting a judgement that the ordinance violates the Constitution of the United States, the Wisconsin Constitution, and asks the court to bar the City of La Crosse from enforcing the ordinance. The suit is also seeking damages, court costs and attorney’s fees for the plaintiff, Buchman.

The ordinance was originally approved in June, but the La Crosse City Council referred it in July after the City’s legal department flagged language in the ordinance that could leave the City open to legal issues. In August, WILL threatened a lawsuit, writing a letter to the City Council that said the ban “functions as little more than an official municipal prohibition on speech the City finds disagreeable. As it reads in the complaint filed Thursday, WILL said the ordinance banning the controversial medical practice violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause, its religion clauses, and the Wisconsin Constitution’s freedom of conscience clauses.

Conversion therapy is described as any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, which is a practice most often targeted at young people who identify as LGBTQ+. Practitioners of conversion therapy try to convert a person into becoming a heterosexual through methods such as talk therapy, hypnosis, and aversion therapy. 20 states have banned conversion therapy since 2013, and 13 Wisconsin municipalities have done the same since 2018. Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, Cudahy, Shorewood, Racine, Sheboygan, Superior, Glendale, Appleton, West Allis, Kenosha, and Sun Prairie have all prohibited the practice.