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Ban Conversion Therapy in Erie County PA

Posted by david_m94@hotmail.com on May 1, 2018 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Good evening Members of Erie County Council

Before I prepared my remarks for this evening, I asked PA Representative Mike Schlossberg what suggestions he had that would give my presentation greater impact. His advice was to share a personal story.

My name is David Moore, and I represent the 26,000 supporters and followers of the Pennsylvania Equality Project. We are an organization dedicated to fighting for full equality and fairness under the law for the LGBTQ community of Pennsylvania. I am also the founder of the Gay Straight Alliance at Conneaut Area Senior High School. I have spoken with students who have survived conversion therapy attempts, and know first-hand the pain they have endured. I also stand here today as a ten year survivor and fighter of papillary thyroid cancer, and as a result have retired from teaching.

I am here today to talk about the need to implement a ban on conversion therapy in Erie County. The strain of cancer I have, Tall Cell Variant Papillary Thyroid cancer has no cure. Coincidentally, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or in any way having a non-heteronormative sexual or gender identity is not a disease, and thus, requires no cure. Health professionals who offer a cure for being LGBT are peddling snake oil. That claim comes from numerous professional health care, social work, and education organizations.

According to the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute, approximately 20,000 youth between the ages of 13 and 17 will undergo attempts at conversion therapy from licensed health care professionals before they reach the age of 18 in the 40 states that currently allow conversion therapy. An additional 57,000 youth will undergo conversion therapy attempts in all 50 states at the hands of religious or spiritual advisers. Nothing under Pennsylvania law prevents that from happening in Erie County.

Throughout US history from 1890 to the present, numerous conversion therapy techniques have been used by health care professionals seeking to change a person’s identity, including talk therapy, which is currently the most commonly used technique today. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, other methods include aversion treatments such as inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis, providing electroshock, or having the individual snap an elastic wrist band when the individual had same-sex erotic thoughts.

What are the harmful effects of conversion therapy? According to research conducted at San Francisco State University, young people who are LGBTQ who live in non-supportive environments and undergo conversion therapy are 8 times more likely to commit suicide, 6 times more likely to report high levels of depression, and 3 times more likely to turn to illegal drugs. According to Governor Wolf, Pennsylvania already faces an opioid epidemic. We need not make matters worse, even by one child, by allowing conversion therapy to continue.

Numerous professional organizations have taken a stand against conversion therapy, including the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry who finds:

"... 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."

The American Medical Association states further:

"Our AMA… opposes, the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation."

On December 20, 2016, the city of Pittsburgh became the first municipality in Pennsylvania to ban the practice of conversion or “reparative therapy” under Section 628 of Title VI of the city’s municipal code. Their ordinance makes illegal the practice of conducting conversion therapy within the city of Pittsburgh by any health care professional who is paid for his or her services.

The city of Philadelphia followed on July 11, 2017 with a similar ordinance. Philadelphia code 9-903 imposes a penalty of loss of the required commercial activity license, and a $2,000 fine for each instance of conversion therapy. The city of Allentown followed Philadelphia’s lead on July 20, 2017. Reading and Doylestown Borough passed ordinances in December last year, and State College did so in February of this year.

The Commonwealth has yet to pass a statewide ban on conversion therapy. House Bill 1177 is presently stalled in the Health Committee of the General Assembly, while Senate Bill 44 shares a similar fate in the Pennsylvania Senate. Lacking any further action from the Pennsylvania legislature, minors in Erie County lack the protection afforded them in the aforementioned municipalities. In the bill pending before the legislature, the General Assembly declared,

Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researches in the United States have recognized this fact for more than 40 years.

They continue by saying,

The American Psychological Association convened a task force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. The task force concluded that sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, and substance abuse.

Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly recognize that the Commonwealth has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. In particular, the bill seeks to protect minors against exposure to serious harms caused by conversion therapy.

The Pennsylvania Equality Project has drafted a petition with 8,136 signatures that seeks to ban conversion therapy throughout Pennsylvania. A similar petition for residents of Erie County was released earlier this evening. While our organization recognizes the need to honor the First Amendment freedom of religion, that same freedom should not be used as a weapon to allow children to suffer the damaging effects of conversion therapy. Therefore, on behalf of the Pennsylvania Equality Project in light of the inaction of the Pennsylvania legislature, I call on Erie County Council to adopt an ordinance that would ban health care practitioners from performing conversion therapy in Erie County.

Thank you