Toledo Law Clinical Students Research and Write Legislation on City-Wide Conversion Therapy Ban – and Toledo City Council Unanimously Passes It
March 31, 2017
In early February 2017, the Toledo City Council passed an ordinance banning conversion therapy for LGBT children and adults, the first city ban in the nation to cover more than just children. The University of Toledo College of Law’s Civil Advocacy Clinic was instrumental in researching, writing, and supporting the ordinance.
According to Toledo Law Professor Robert Salem `90, conversion therapy bans started appearing in cities and states after a connection between LGBT youth suicides and conversion therapy was noticed by both the mental health and LGBT rights communities. Equality Toledo, a local anti-discrimination organization, enlisted the services of Toledo Law’s Civil Advocacy Clinic, which is directed by Salem, to help develop awareness of the dangers of conversion therapy through legal research and a panel presentation on the topic last Fall.
Supervised by Salem, three Civil Advocacy Clinic students, Nick Huckaby ’17, Katelyn Howells ’16, and Alan Nichols ’17, took the lead on drafting the ordinance over the course of two semesters. During Fall Semester 2016, Huckaby and Howells reviewed other cities’ conversion therapy bans, including Cincinnati’s first-in-the-nation ban. They researched the arguments for a conversion therapy ban as well as counterarguments for a month before drafting an initial ordinance, which received helpful feedback from Equality Toledo. Huckaby and Howells turned over their proposed ordinance to Toledo City Council President and fellow Toledo Law student, Steven Steel ’17.
At the start of Spring Semester 2017, Nichols, now enrolled in the Civil Advocacy Clinic, learned that the Toledo City Council wanted to move forward and vote on the ordinance to ban conversion therapy. Nichols worked with Huckaby and Steel to learn about councilmember concerns and hone the ordinance so that it had the best chance of being passed.
At the City Council committee meeting before the vote, Nichols testified as a proponent of the ban, explaining the legal basis and legal strength of the proposed ban and answering questions about it. He was joined by other proponents including a physician, members of Equality Toledo, and someone who had undergone conversion therapy. There were a few clergy members who spoke out against the ban. They were assured by City Council President Steel that the proposed ordinance had an exception for religious clergy.
The students’ hard work paid off – not only did the conversion therapy ban pass unanimously with bipartisan support, but the written ordinance closely mirrored one of their early drafts with some wording changes to fit the City Council’s customary legislation template. The passage of the ordinance was especially important to Nichols because he believes the issue of conversion therapy will not be addressed on the federal level or state level in Ohio due to the current political climate – it is up to local governments to do this.
Salem believes that law schools and law students have a role to play in advancing social justice. “Lawyers are leaders, and leadership is an important skill to develop in law school,” said Salem. “Being a lawyer is not just about representing individual clients, it is about making a change in society and helping people. It is a service profession.”
Steel agreed, saying, “The development and passage of this conversion therapy ban was a good manifestation of my interest in effective, progressive public service, both as an elected representative and as a law student and future member of the legal profession.”
Both Huckaby and Nichols found their first experience with legislation to be a positive one. “It’s nice to have an impact and help people as a third-year law student, and I will be able to look through the City Code years from now and know I had a small role to play in helping the City take a big step forward,” said Huckaby. Echoed Nichols, “The experience reaffirmed my interest in public policy, which was one of the main reasons I came to law school.”