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Waterloo City Council repeals gender conversion therapy ban

Waterloo City Hall's red marble and stone walkway at sunset.
Grant Leo Winterer
The Waterloo City Council had approved its ban on conversion therapy just this past May.

The repeal leaves Davenport and Linn County as the only two governments in Iowa with similar bans in effect.

The Waterloo City Council repealed a short-lived gender conversion therapy ban by a narrow 4-3 margin on Monday evening.

The ordinance, first proposed in March and passed in May, made the city the third government in Iowa to ban the practice of attempting to change an individual’s gender orientation or sexual identity. The threat of legal action prompted a special session earlier this month, which resulted in its repeal.

Eleven members of Waterloo’s LGBTQ community, including individuals who underwent the therapy, voiced their frustrations with the council’s shirking from possible litigation, including Iowa Safe Schools’ Director of External Relations Damian Thompson.

“Why the city would work to repeal this dumbfounds me,” Thompson said. “There have been zero legal or legislative developments that would change the interpretation of the passage of this ordinance.”

Thompson went on to say that the lack of transparency from the council was concerning, a sentiment echoed by most of the dissenting voices.

The repeal of the ban, however, doesn’t mean that conversion therapy will be left entirely unregulated or unchecked. According to Councilman Rob Nichols, it simply shifts the handling of complaints to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Board of Professional Licensure.

“The real push of this ordinance was to implement a legal test on a professional’s licensure to see if a practice could be considered conversion therapy within the code of ethics of the Board of Professional Licensure,” he said.

The city’s Human Resource Commission is currently charged with the handling of ethical complaints, and according to Nichols, has no direct investigative power.

Councilman Johnathan Grieder, author of the ordinance, lamented its repeal, saying after the vote that the city council had let down not only its constituents, but itself.

“We sit up here, and we make laws,” he said. “The point of laws is not to put words on paper, or digits on a screen. The point of laws is to enact justice and fairness and equality. Until we do that, we have a lot of work to do.”

Grant Leo Winterer has been Iowa Public Radio’s Waterloo and Cedar Falls reporter and host of Weekend Edition since August of 2023.