Forty-four percent of LGBTQ+ youth in Wisconsin have considered suicide in the past year. That includes 56% of trans and nonbinary youth, according to The Trevor Project, an organization focusing on Suicide prevention efforts in LGBTQ+ youth.
The issue is exacerbated by practices like conversion therapy.
Tory Stevenson is the director of state advocacy with The Trevor Project.
“We still see people doing this (conversation therapy) and thinking that they can change somebody into somebody they’re not. And often these are well-intentioned parents that are falling for the same story that that many people who put themselves through this too, and that’s that,” says Stevenson. “You’ve got somebody purporting to be a mental health professional saying that they’ve been trained in something, which there is no training in and then inflicting that upon a person with the intent of changing them. With no basis for actually doing it.”
He says a lot of conversion therapy happens in faith-based spaces, but dozens of licensed practitioners are still facilitating the practice.
“They’ll say that they’re treating for anxiety. They say that they’re treating other things, and they’re actually coding for things that are legitimate practices but then doing these harmful things that are not approved. They’re outside the ethics and practices of their profession. Yes, I would say dollars are going to it through basically insurance fraud ways,” says Stevenson.
Stevenson adds that many young people or young adults don’t talk about their experiences with conversion therapy due to safety.
Stevenson says the first step in getting rid of the practice is educating people on what it means to be LGBTQ+ and learning that just like any other trait, it can’t be changed.
Reverend Tory Topjian knows that first hand.
Reverend Topjian is the senior minister with the Metropolitan Community Church in Milwaukee and has been passionately working to ban conversion therapy since 2018.
He’s also a survivor of conversion therapy after being briefly involved with Exodus International. It was a non-profit Christian organization that sought to “help people who wished to limit their homosexual desires.”
Reverend Topjian shares a bit of his experience:
“I want to say that they put a lot of dos and don’ts on things, but just — I would say — it’s more or less of a … brainwashing, maybe, is a good way of, I guess, identifying it for simpler terms of trying to reverse your thinking patterns and all of that,” says Revernd Topjian. “Telling you that this is how you should be thinking, and this is what you should be doing and all of that. And they they sort of heavily laid on, you know, things in faith worship and … church.”
Earlier this month, Reverend Topjian joined LGBTQ+ community leaders in Madison for Equality Day at the capitol. They discussed with lawmakers, issues affecting the community, including conversion therapy.
He says there’s hope that conversion therapy will be prohibited in the future as state lawmakers renew a push for a ban.
“So I think that hopefully the next time it comes around that we’ll have more, complete support throughout the Senate and all of that as it goes to the Governor for approval,” says Reverend Topjian.
Meanwhile, leaders in a number of cities have passed local bans on conversion therapy. In March, the Milwaukee County Board adopted a resolution voicing supervisors’ opposition to the practice. The City of Milwaukee already had a ban. There are currently 14 Wisconsin cities with bans on the books.
Reverend Topjian says anyone can get involved in putting an end to conversion therapy by reaching out to their state lawmakers and calling for change.