Democratic lawmakers call on Pennsylvania to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy statewide

    Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, leads a press conference calling for a statewide ban on conversion therapy. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

    Rep. Brian Sims, one of two openly gay lawmakers serving in the Pennsylvania Legislature, doesn’t refer to the process of forcibly trying to change a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity as “conversion therapy.”

    He calls it “abuse.”

    The Philadelphia Democrat was joined Wednesday in the Capitol by LGBTQ advocates and four lawmakers, who called on the General Assembly to ban the practice on minors statewide.

    Sims introduced legislation to do so earlier this year with fellow Democratic Rep. Gerald J. Mullery, of Luzerne County.

    That bill, as well as companion legislation introduced by Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, have been sitting in committees for several months.

    “It is insidious,” Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, said of conversion therapy. “It is harmful. It has lifelong effects.”

    Kenyatta, the Legislature’s other openly gay member, said he grew up in a “conservative black church” and spent many Sundays praying “God would change me.”

    “The reality is that there are LGBTQ+ folks around the commonwealth, around the country that are living in their truth,” he said. “Bravery begets bravery.”

    The American Psychiatric Association opposes conversion therapy or any practice “that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.”

    Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have banned the therapy, as have 11 municipalities in Pennsylvania: Allentown, Bellefonte, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Erie, Newtown Township, Reading, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, State College, and Yardley.

    Allegheny County is considering legislation, while Harrisburg issued a proclamation condemning the practice in 2018.

    Trevor Project national survey results 2019.

    Daniel Walinsky, associate professor of instruction in the Counseling Psychology Program at Temple University, was himself subjected to conversion therapy in his early 20s.

    “Not only did it hurt me and my family relationships,” Walinsky said, “but it also made me distrust psychology.”

    “For many survivors, the impact … remains a haunting reminder that can contribute to debilitating, internalized self-loathing,” Walinsky continued. “And it’s only one of the types of violence that LGBTQ youth experience.”

    Casey Pick of the Trevor Project said “rejection” makes LGBTQ youth, the population the organization serves, eight times more likely to attempt suicide.

    “Conversion therapy is one of the worst forms of rejection a child can experience,” Pick said.

    The Trevor Project’s 2019 national survey of more than 34,000 LGBTQ youth found 5 percent underwent some type of conversion therapy. Of those, 42 percent said they attempted suicide, compared to 17 percent in the population that had not.

    Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.