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On Saturday, West St. Paul Pride in the Park awarded local resident Connye LaCombe the first ever Pride in the Park Community Advocate Award for her work battling gay conversion therapy.
Nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. have gone through some form of conversion therapy. Research shows LGBTQ youth who have gone through conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.
If you are thinking about suicide and in need of immediate support, please call the TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386
“Connye displayed persistence and resilience in coming before the city council,” said a statement from WSP Pride in the Park. “Her willingness to be vulnerable in advocating for LGBTQ+ children is a perfect example of what it means to be a Community Advocate.”
Advocacy Work in West St. Paul
In November of 2019, LaCombe stood before West St. Paul’s City Council and urged them to ban the abusive practice. She helped educate the City Council with research, expert opinions from medical professionals, and more. LaCombe came back to City Council in March of 2020, pushing them to take action with her emotional testimony.
LaCombe was motivated to speak on behalf of her transgender daughter, Jillian LaCombe, who suffered from bullying, depression, and attempted suicide:
“Our daughter was never subjected to conversion therapy, but suffered some of those effects anyway because of the abuse she was subjected to by ignorant people—and I count myself among those. I should have known … Thank God times have changed and people are waking up to the fact that being LGBTQ is not a mental illness. … Bullying is bad enough, but being put through the torture that is reparative therapy or gay conversion therapy is far worse and can lead to serious mental issues and even death.”
Making Progress to Stop Conversion Therapy
In August of 2020, the West St. Paul City Council took action, becoming the sixth city in Minnesota to pass an ordinance banning conversion therapy. LaCombe was joined by over a dozen residents speaking out against the harmful practice.
The Minnesota legislature has tried to pass a ban multiple times, but it failed due to Republican opposition. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order banning conversion therapy in 2021, though he urged the legislature to pass a more thorough and permanent ban.
LaCombe’s advocacy was key to moving the ban forward in West St. Paul, and the building pressure of multiple cities helped make state-wide action possible.
“I was not acting alone,” LaCombe said, noting that a group of people worked together to push for the change. “I just started the ball rolling and kept pestering the Council.”
A recent Netflix documentary, Pray Away, shines on a light on the conversion therapy movement with candid interviews with former leaders of the movement who now denounce it, as well as religious leaders who still support the practice.
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