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Torturing queer kids is a priority for Wisconsin Republicans

New year, “new” legislature, same bullshit.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.

New year, “new” legislature, same bullshit.

Each week in Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In our new recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.

The Wisconsin legislature has only been in session for a few weeks, and we’re already seeing a heaping pile of nonsense come from legislative Republicans—the same party that thought they were going to receive a supermajority thanks to heavy gerrymandering and a red wave, but didn’t. Assembly Leader Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) did their usual pre-session song-and-dance about how they want to work with Gov. Tony Evers, then announced a whole host of completely regressive and foolish proposals.

With a $6 billion surplus and an opportunity to innovate and invest in Wisconsin in ways that could benefit generations, the only thing on Republicans’ minds is tax cuts. They’re not even pretending to prioritize middle class earners, but outright saying that they want a flat tax to give massive cuts to the wealthy. At some point I’ll dive into why this is nonsensical and be sure to include an “Incremental Tax 101” for Sen. Duey Stroebel, since he apparently doesn’t know that cuts for lower income brackets are also cuts for the wealthy.

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Also, they’re throwing around the carrot of increasing shared revenue for counties and municipalities, but under the condition that they “reform” and privatize services. There’s also the carrot of medical marijuana legalization, but who knows what Republicans will ask for in return.  

But let’s take a step back from the nuance of policy, and focus on this session’s first galling, cruel power grab. Last week, Republicans on the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) blocked the board that oversees licensing for therapists, counselors and social workers, from making a rule that states that if you are a licensed counselor, therapist, or social worker, you cannot engage in “conversion therapy.”

This is not the first time JCRAR has blocked this rule. In fact, preventing agencies from taking actions that align with their missions or even to enforce laws passed by the legislature is JCRAR’s whole raison d’etre. JCRAR spent years preventing the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from creating rules to monitor and enforce rules regarding PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in waterways, despite the legislature passing a law in 2019 to limit the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS. 

To clarify, the rule that was blocked last week does not ban “conversion therapy” outright. If a parent would rather have their child tortured than accept their sexual orientation or gender identity, they can. But the rule would not allow the state to legitimize the practice by providing the practitioners with a license. 

Because it is not therapy. Every legitimate medical and psychiatric organization (read: not an anti-LGBTQ organization in doctor’s clothing) that has weighed in on the practice has found that it has no benefit and increases the risk of a patient experiencing depression and suicidal ideation, among other risks. And yet, Republicans are treating this bare-minimum rule to protect queer youth as if it’s part of a debate on religious liberty. As if the government is storming churches and telling pastors what they can and cannot say to young members. 

We’re not talking about religion; we’re talking about mental health. And how can anyone provide mental health care to someone when they believe there is something inherently wrong with their gender identity or sexual orientation? If someone is willing to perform “therapies” proven by medical professionals again and again to only do harm, how can they justify holding a medical license?

This action is also a reminder that the Republican Party has declared open season on queer youth. You’d hope they’d rethink their tactics after disappointing midterm results, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

“My Republican colleagues have developed an unusual and disturbing obsession with the bodies and identities of children and adolescents, and re-instituting conversion torture is just the latest example,” wrote Sen. Chris Larsen (D-Milwaukee) in a January 12 press release. “Whether it’s dead-naming kids, forcing intrusive medical examinations to determine biological sex before they can play sports, or even trying to forbid discussions of gender and sexuality in school altogether, what they’re trying to do is nothing less than state-sponsored child abuse.”

This vote was one of the first of this legislative session. Who knows what’s next. 

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