MILWAUKEE — Pride Month is not just a celebration, but a time to educate people about LGBTQ issues.
“We celebrate in Pride - we celebrate in June the successes - but Pride is a protest at its very core,” said Alex Corona from Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.
As the month-long celebration kicks off, there are renewed concerns about issues like conversion therapy. It is a practice to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity through therapy or prayer. LGBTQ rights advocate and former candidate for state assembly Jessica Katzenmeyer went through it as a child.
“It makes you think there is something wrong with you, when you are just exploring who you are as a person,” said Jessica Katzenmeyer. “It was pretty traumatizing.”
Medical professionals denounce the practice. At least 20 states have banned the practice on children. Wisconsin is not one of them.
"It doesn't work and it also causes incredible harm to the people who undergo it. It causes higher rates of suicidal thoughts and actions. It causes higher rates of drug abuse, higher rates of depression, anxiety and other mental illness,” said Austin Kieler, founder of People Against Conversion Therapy.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Standards tried to ban to practice. Instead, the State Assembly and Senate moved to protect conversion therapy, arguing DSPS didn’t have the authority to issue the ban. The bill now sits in a committee with no final vote planned.
Thirteen cities around the state including Milwaukee banned it locally. They include:
- Eau Claire
- West Allis
- Sun Prairie
“I’m hopeful that as we continue banning conversion therapy at the local level, we are building up more of that pressure, really showing our state legislature that there is no place for such a hateful and archaic and incredibly harmful practice,” said Kieler.
He is worried practices like this only contribute to violence against LGBTQ people. The FBI reports hate crime incidents against sexual orientation have fallen in Wisconsin, while crimes involving gender identity are rising.
Wisconsin hate crime incidents
- 2019: 5
- 2018: 14
- 2017: 13
- 2019: 6
- 2018: 2
- 2017: 0
"You don't have to agree with how I choose to live my life or somebody else, how they choose to live their life. We just want to be accepted. We want to have the same rights as everybody else. We don't want to be discriminated against. That's why we fight for these things,” said Katzenmeyer.