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Reps. Doyle, Billings sponsor legislation to ban conversion therapy in Wisconsin

Wisconsin made history in 1982, becoming the first state to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Now, local representatives are hoping to make further strides in the quest for LGBTQ rights by becoming the 16th state to ban conversion therapy.



Statewide, four cities — Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Cudahy — have already enacted bans, and proposed legislation from 45 sponsors, including Rep. Jill Billings of La Crosse and Rep. Steve Doyle of Onalaska, would extend the ban statewide.

Introduced last month, Senate Bill 107 would bar “certain mental health providers from engaging in conversion therapy with a minor,” with a violation “grounds for professional discipline by the appropriate credentialing board.” In 2017, Bill 261, co-sponsored by six democratic senators and containing the same text, did not pass.

“I think there is a better chance (of it passing) because it’s a bipartisan bill this time,” Doyle said. “That’s a positive.”


“We definitely hope its going to go through,” said Alesha Schandelmeier, executive director for The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection, which is lending its support. “To me, it seems to have more momentum now that other cities have passed (bans), and hopefully the state will recognize conversion therapy is very harmful ‘treatment’ for children.”

Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is a practice aimed at altering an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The concept has been denounced by each of the leading medical and mental health organizations in the United States, including the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

“It seems when you’ve got a dozen and a half medical organizations saying this is a dangerous practice, you should pay attention,” Doyle said. “I think the time is right for us to take some action at the state level.”

Though it’s been 46 years since the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness, some counselors, licensed professionals and religious officials still regard homosexuality as a “curable condition,” whether through talk therapy or the use of severe emotional and physical tactics such as hypnosis, inflicting shame, forced viewing of pornography or abuse.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states there is “no evidence to support the application of any ‘therapeutic intervention’ operating under the premise that a specific sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression is pathological. Furthermore, based on the scientific evidence, the AACAP asserts that such ‘conversion therapies’ (or other interventions imposed with the intent of promoting a particular sexual orientation and/or gender as a preferred outcome) lack scientific credibility and clinical utility. Additionally, there is evidence that such interventions are harmful. As a result, ‘conversion therapies’ should not be part of any behavioral health treatment of children and adolescents.”

“Sexual orientation is not something that is considered a disorder by the medical community or me — it can be destructive and harmful to treat it as a disease,” Billings said. “People need to be loved and valued for who they are.”

A study released in January 2018 by the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, states 698,000 LGBT adults have received conversion therapy, half of them as adolescents. Another 20,000 LGBT individuals age 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed professional, with an additional 57,000 from a religious or spiritual leader, before age 18. Schandelmeier says she has heard of local cases of conversion therapy “anecdotally.”

Citing the Trevor Project, The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection notes that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who experience rejection from their families are six times more likely to report high levels of depression and 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to LBG youth with accepting families. Potential risks of conversion therapy, the American Psychiatric Association notes, include substance abuse, anxiety, depression and self destructive behaviors.

“The children sent by their parents don’t have a choice in undergoing what is a considered a pseudo scientific process,” Schandelmeier said. “(This bill) is definitely very important and it feels really good that our political leaders are supporting us. They are representatives for all of our community members, including the LGBTQ community.”

Doyle anticipates having the bill sent to committee this summer, with a goal of having it reach the floor of the Legislature this fall for voting.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

A pair of Canada geese walk across a dry portion of the Marsh Loop Trail on Friday in the La Crosse River Marsh. The trail is temporarily closed due to high water.

Onalaska assistant police chief announces retirement days after being placed on leave

The city of Onalaska announced Friday that its assistant police chief is retiring — just two days after the city placed him on administrative leave after a weekend incident involving the arrest of the fire chief.


Jeffery Cavender will retire effective Monday, according to a statement released Friday by the city of Onalaska.

There was no additional information from the city about the weekend incident or Cavender’s involvement.

When Onalaska Fire Chief William D. Hayes was arrested for drunken driving by Onalaska police last weekend, he told officers he had had a couple of beers with Cavender.

The city has declined to elaborate on Cavender.

The city’s statement Friday acknowledged his “33 years of dedicated and decorated law enforcement service.”

Cavender came to Onalaska after his contract was not renewed as a police chief in Arizona in 2018.

House Dems cheer wins, ponder stumbles of first 100 days

WASHINGTON — Newly elected Rep. Sharice Davids is most proud of setting up a congressional office in part of her Kansas district she said hadn’t seen one for years.

For Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath, her biggest victory was passing the gun background checks legislation she advocated for after her son’s shooting death.

And for New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her top achievement was the introduction of the landmark Green New Deal.

As the Democratic freshmen lawmakers round the first 100 days of their new majority in the House, they’re taking stock of their accomplishments, noting the stumbles and marking their place as a front line of resistance to President Donald Trump.

“When I came here, I said the days of business as usual in the Congress are done, and I think that’s what we’ve seen,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., a nurse and former Obama administration official, who took over a GOP-held seat in the Chicago suburbs.

The first 100 days is often a milestone for a new Congress — an automatic, if arbitrary, moment to assess the workings of the legislative branch. This year, it’s even more noteworthy because of the historic nature of the freshmen class.

It is two-thirds Democrat, with more women than men on that side of the aisle. It’s also the most diverse ever, with many newbies swept into office in a blue wave that followed two years of Trump.

House Democrats set out an ambitious agenda with legislation on the kitchen table priorities that helped them win the majority — protecting the Affordable Care Act, imposing new ethics rules — while engaging in aggressive oversight of the Trump administration. Their investigations extend well beyond special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election as they dig into the president’s business dealings and push for Trump’s tax returns.

But with the spotlight comes high-profile setbacks. Democrats splintered over Ocasio-Cortez’s climate change proposal and exposed party divisions over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. One new lawmaker, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, stunned some when, on Day One, she told supporters — using an expletive — that the new majority would impeach Trump.

Moreover, few of their bills will ever be signed into law. In fact, most are simply resolutions that are being panned by the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is providing backstop with his Republican majority to keep the measures from ever making it to Trump’s desk.

McConnell said Pelosi’s challenges resemble those Republicans have keeping their right flank in line. “I was almost tempted to call up my friend the speaker and say, ‘Congratulations, you’ve got a Freedom Caucus on your hands,’” he told reporters Thursday, referring to the House’s conservative group.

House Republicans gathered on the Capitol steps for their own 100-day event, ridiculing the new majority for catering to the liberal left and failing to keep their campaign promises.

“I have one question for the Democrats after their first 100 days: What have you accomplished?” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Wednesday. “Name me one problem you have solved.”

Another Republican, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, warned that Democrats are veering toward socialism. As he did, a passer-by among the crowds of tourists outside the Capitol shouted, “I stand with Ilhan!” — a reference to outspoken freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Democrats know they face challenges ahead, not only in avoiding the internal divisions that stymied House Republicans when they were in power but also in delivering on their campaign promises.

“For me personally, the biggest frustration has been that we’re working on a lot of different things. But if you’re just looking at the media, the narrative is not showing that,” said freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Hill of California. “It makes it seem like all we’re focusing on is the president and responding to whatever tweet of the day or the investigation and so on, but we’re actually working on the issues that we were elected to do.”

Tlaib said the most surprising thing to her so far has been the “lack of urgency” among some in Congress. As few joined her push to impeach, she said she thinks “we’re going to look back and say we wish we did more.”

At House Democrats’ retreat this week in Virginia, Ocasio-Cortez said their power lies in being able “to come in as a class.”

Many of them say they know theirs is a historic moment, even amid the everyday challenges of being new on the job.

Underwood, who gathered the freshmen to make a video showcasing what they were most proud of, acknowledged the hurdles ahead.

“Moving forward, we will need to continue to work not just to pass bills in the House but do things that can gain broad support so that they can get enacted into law,” she said.

“People in my community are looking for impactful change — they can feel a difference.”




Coming Sunday: Kwik Trip keeps pumping up La Crosse

When Kwik Trip bought 34 convenience stores in Madison and the Milwaukee suburbs nearly 18 months ago, it was big news for the fast-growing company.

But what does that growth mean for jobs and investment at Kwik Trip’s La Crosse headquarters?

It means $300 million of investment on its 120-acre corporate campus and hundreds more jobs.

As Kwik Trip serves 8 million customers a week and nears 700 stores in three states, check out Sunday’s La Crosse Tribune to learn more about the company’s growth — and its impact on the Coulee Region.