Walz restricts gay conversion therapy, overriding Republican objections

The Senate Majority Leader who sent his child to an anti-LGBT clinic previously blocked a proposed ban

By: - July 15, 2021 10:21 am

Genna Gazelka, 32, St. Paul, is the child of the GOP Senate majority leader who blocked legislation in 2019 banning conversion therapy. Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday is outlawing the practice by executive order. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.

During a ceremonial signing on Thursday morning, DFL Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order that will restrict so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, bypassing lawmakers in the GOP-led Senate who have blocked legislation to end the practice. 

The order comes ahead of the delayed 2021 Pride weekend celebration,  making Minnesota the latest state to restrict the controversial practice. More than two dozen states have acted to outlaw or partially ban the practice, and three others are facing legal challenges over bans, according to Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

The American Medical Association rejects the practice, which involves any intervention to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The AMA says professional consensus is that sexual orientation and gender identity are not mental disorders.

The executive order is not as comprehensive as a previous DFL effort in the Legislature to outright ban the practice. Specifically it will direct the Minnesota Health and Commerce departments to block health maintenance organizations and insurers from covering conversion therapy for minors. 

The executive order, Walz said, means “no minor Minnesotan, anyone under 18 or vulnerable Minnesotans is subjected to this byzantine torturous practice of conversion therapy.” 

He added: “I would be remiss if I didn’t say it: our real goal needs to be to just outright ban this discredited practice, do it through the legislative process and do it for all Minnesotans.”

Walz was joined by a group of LGBTQ activists, including some who spoke about the harm they experienced and witnessed firsthand from the practice. 

The effort comes two years after an emotional Capitol debate divided even Republicans, including some in the Senate who opposed the practice and personally involved the chamber’s top leader, who sought treatment for his oldest child.

Genna Gazelka, 32, told the Star Tribune that their father, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, had taken them to a therapist who disapproved of homosexuality. 

Gazelka’s therapist worked at a clinic run by Marcus Bachmann, husband of former GOP Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose practice was accused of offering conversion therapy. 

“I do remember a lot of horrible things being said about being gay,” Gazelka said. 

Gazelka said they came out as bisexual and later lesbian when they were a teenager. Now a college writing instructor, Gazelka identifies as bi-gender and uses they/them pronouns.

“Having been in an environment, family and even professional environment, that is not accepting of the gay community, I am heartened to hear that at least in professional environments, they’re not going to be able to break that professional code, limiting the harm they can cause in these developmental stages,” Gazelka said. 

A spokeswoman for Sen. Gazelka did not immediately respond to a request for comment from him on Walz’s actions and his child’s remarks.

The Minnesota Family Council, a Christian advocacy organization, criticized the Walz action as executive overreach, calling it “a direct attack” on individual choice and the the constitutional rights of patients, families, and therapists.

Gazelka, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the state, is currently mulling a run for governor. If elected governor, Gazelka could undo the executive order. 

Asked whether they would vote for their father for governor, Gazelka declined to say.

Walz’s executive order comes on the heels of a battle in the Senate over the administration’s efforts to enact environmental policy through the rule-making process, forcing out the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. 

Asked about the potential that the Senate may push back on his executive order, Walz deferred to state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who previously sponsored legislation to ban conversion therapy. 

“If the Senate leadership wants to make an issue of this, we can have that conversation in front of the public, because the public is with us,” Dibble said. “They know that this causes active harm in young people’s lives. In fact, the truth is, it’s simply Majority Leader Gazelka who is blocking the passage of this bill.”

Walz, who is up for re-election in 2022, argued it would be unwise for any gubernatorial candidate to seek to undo the executive order. 

“I don’t certainly think there’s any benefit in political rhetoric around if you’re running on a platform you want to hurt children with a discredited medical practice, that doesn’t seem like that would be a good model,” Walz said.

 

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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