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Pennsylvania Protects LGBTQ Residents from Conversion Therapy

Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order on Tuesday, Aug. 16, that mandates state agencies to discourage the practice, prohibits funding and requires public reporting of professionals who have utilized conversion therapy.

(TNS) — Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Tuesday, Aug. 16, that directs state agencies to protect LGBTQ Pennsylvania residents from conversion therapy.

The executive order mandates that all state agencies discourage the practice in the state and ensure that no state resources are used to provide conversion therapy. The order also directs state agencies to publicly report licensed professionals who have utilized the practice and make updates to state policies to better support its LGBTQ employees.

Conversion therapy — sometimes called reparative therapy — is a largely discredited practice that attempts to change a the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. Children who received it face higher rates of attempted suicide, according to a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA's School of Law and other medical research, and the practice has been widely condemned by medical associations for its potential harm to LGBTQ people.

The economic impact of these treatments and their negative effects on LGBTQ people totals more than $9 billion, according to a study published this year by the American Medical Association.

"Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat," Mr. Wolf said at a news conference Tuesday. "This discriminatory practice is widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals and has been proven to lead to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ youth subjected to it. This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them."

Mr. Wolf said Tuesday that he is unaware of any state resources being used to promote or fund conversion therapy.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have banned conversion therapy on minors within their boundaries. Pittsburgh was the first city in Pennsylvania to ban conversion therapy on minors in 2016. Since then, at least 10 other municipalities have followed suit, including Philadelphia and Erie.

Allegheny County is the only county in Pennsylvania to ban conversion therapy on minors, doing so in February 2020.

Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson, who serves on Mr. Wolf's LGBTQ Affairs Commission, said during Tuesday's news conference that it took her more than a decade to be able to talk about her own experience in conversion therapy publicly. The commissioner and Lutheran pastor said that as a teen, she confided to a Bible study leader about her teenage crush.

"That innocent inquiry resulted in my being sent to a weeklong retreat, with no cellphones, several states away, alone, with no idea what was coming," Rev. Wilson said. "I'm still ashamed to admit that it didn't even take the whole week for them to break me."

Now, Rev. Wilson helps other former conversion therapy patients, many of whom still live with "flashbacks, self-hatred, substance abuse and symptoms of trauma," she added.

"I'm here today to say that healing is possible, but for many of us, it must begin today," Rev. Wilson said.

Casey Pick, a senior fellow for LGBTQ advocacy group The Trevor Project, said governmental actions to stop conversion therapy often discourage unlicensed religious professionals who conduct conversion therapy from continuing.

"We see it every time where we in any way prohibit the activities of conversion therapy for licensed professionals," Ms. Pick added. "Often, the unlicensed religious professionals call us to complain that we are making their lives more difficult, and that is precisely the point."

Several Pittsburgh-area lawmakers applauded Mr. Wolf's order, including Rep. Jessica Benham, D- Carrick. Ms. Benham is the first openly bisexual woman elected to the House.

"While I'm happy that this executive order will create meaningful changes, it does not change the fact that LGBTQ+ people are, sadly, still seriously marginalized in many ways," Ms. Benham said in a statement. She called on the Legislature to pass the PA Fairness Act, which would make Pennsylvania one of more than 20 states that has codified that LGBTQ people can not be denied housing, education, or accommodations because of their identity.

In June, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that mandated the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to lead an initiative to ensure no federally funded programs offer conversion therapy, as well as to lead a public awareness campaign about the harms of the practice. The order also called on the Federal Trade Commission to consider if conversion therapy is an "unfair or deceptive act or practice" that they could issue consumer warnings about, according to a White House news release.

(c)2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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