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City Council voted to table discussion of conversion therapy ban

Attempt to override Mayor Dennis’ veto of a facial recognition ban fails

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12/6/21 West Lafayette City Council Meeting, David Sanders

City Councilor David Sanders questions WLPD Chief Troy Harris about facial recognition technology.

Monday’s city council meeting discussed two contentious proposals that garnered the attention of many of West Lafayette’s residents.

Dozens of citizens crowded the city council meeting waiting to express their opinions on the proposed conversion therapy ban and hear the final verdicts on the long-winded attempts to ban facial recognition technology from government use.

Conversion therapy ban

The sounds of zipping coats, shuffling shoes and mutters of disappointment rang through Margerum city hall. More than three dozen people, young and old, filed out of the West Lafayette City Council meeting after councilors voted to table further discussion of an ordinance to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ children.

The crowd shrank by two thirds before councilors were able to move to the next topic.

The ordinance proposed to prohibit unlicensed officials from offering conversion therapy or sexual orientation changing treatments to minors.

While there is no known organization in West Lafayette known to offer conversion therapy services, many religious organizations were against the ban believing it to be an infringement of their civil liberties.

“The government should not suppress the right of anyone to hear counsel from a variety of sources, including faith-based ones,” Faith Church Pastor Steve Viars said in a blog post against the proposal.

In response to concerns expressed by citizens, Councilor David Sanders, one of the sponsors of the bill, proposed an amendment clarifying that the bill would not infringe on citizens’ rights.

“This ordinance does not discuss speech or anything having to do with it,” Sanders said.

Counselor James Blanco, the other sponsor of the bill, clarified its purpose is to protect children.

“This (bill) is very clearly protecting children,” Blanco said. “If they are adults 18 or over, they’re free to do that (conversion therapy).”

Both Counselor Larry Leverenz and Kathy Parker voiced their qualms with the bill.

Leverenz brought up issues with the vernacular he believed could lead to uncertainty or misinterpretation and expressed interest in a modified clearer version of the bill which goes into detail about the practices that would be banned.

Leverenz said that he wanted clearer wordings in the bill about licensing and who can provide conversion therapy services.

“This is something we need to look at a little more closely before we jump into this fight”, he said.

While Parker said she ardently disagrees with conversion therapy practices, she opposed the current bill because it interfered with parent-children relationships.

Parker said that the bill would involve the government in the way a parent raises their child, which she believed was an overreach of power.

“I will stand by to protect the rights of anybody that is being abused,” Mayor John Dennis said in agreement with Parker. “But we need to remember that parents have rights.”

Dennis said enforcement of the bill was too broad and would create challenges for police.

Given their concerns, council members motioned to table the discussion and look at a revised version of the bill in January. All except Sanders, who abstained, and Councilor Shannon Kang, who voted against, were in favor of tabling the bill.

Kang, who is queer, said she was against tabling the bill because she strongly believes in banning conversion therapy.

“Any day is a good day to ban conversion therapy,” Kang said. “That’s why I kept voting against tabling. Let’s do it today.”

Overriding the veto for the facial recognition ban

The city council voted against overriding Dennis’ previous veto for the bill from the November meeting that restricted government use of facial recognition technology, which had previously passed both required votes in the city council.

The Exponent previously reported that Sanders, who sponsored the bill, intended the ban to remove a technology that could be used to target minorities.

The motion failed with a 6 to 3 vote against overriding the veto. Two council members who had previously voted in favor of the ban no longer supported it.

Kang, who had previously expressed support for banning facial recognition, said she felt compelled to not vote against the veto.

“There’s a bit of a difference, voting against an ordinance and a veto,” she said.

“It has never been about whether we believe (WLPD) is doing a good job or that we don’t trust them,” Sanders. “The issue is about the infringement on the privacy rights of the citizens of West Lafayette.”

He proceeded to discuss the issues with the current facial recognition software used in Indiana, ClearView AI.

ClearView AI, Sanders said, has white supremacist ties and was built to identify and deport illegal immigrants. Sanders also said that ClearView AI used personal data from Facebook, Google and Twitter to identify people. Reporting by the New York Times, LA Times, Forbes and other reputable media outlets corroborates Sanders’ claims.

In response, WLPD Chief Troy Harris said he’d never heard of the company and that police only use facial recognition as one part of an investigation.

“The ordinance also had features in them that keep the police from doing a good job,” he said.

Many citizens voiced their opinions on the bill, including Brian Lee, a junior in the College of Engineering.

“To allow (facial recognition) into our community”, he said, “is to say that we care more about how we could potentially experiment with this technology but risk the privacy and safety of those who are in our community.”

Chris Beaver, a West Lafayette resident, had very different opinions on the facial recognition ban. He believed the technology could help police solve unsolved crimes.

“I don’t have the heart to deny the assistance to parents affected by murders,” he said.