Pennsylvania, Philly take steps to ban ‘conversion therapy’

State Rep. Brian Sims

State Rep. Brian Sims

Democratic lawmakers are hoping a bill aimed at banning the use of “conversion therapy” for minors in Pennsylvania will pass this legislative session, despite having stalled in years past.

The controversial treatment often used on minors attempts to “repair” gay, lesbian and transgender minors through talk or electroshock therapies. It has been discredited by leading medical and psychiatric associations.

State Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, said the bunk science behind the “therapy” assumes that homosexuality is a mental illness that can be cured. Sims, the first openly gay state legislator in Pennsylvania, said conversion therapy can be harmful to anyone, but it is especially damaging for young people.

“This is an issue of respecting medicine and science, and it’s an issue of recognizing that this is child abuse, not child treatment,” Sims said Thursday at a news conference at Philadelphia City Hall.

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A similar bill was introduced in Harrisburg in 2013, but it failed to gain momentum.

California, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, D.C., have already outlawed conversion therapy for minors. Seattle, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and other cities have also passed similar legislation. 

In the meantime, Philadelphia City Council is considering a proposal to outlaw conversion therapy citywide. That came after Pittsburgh became the first Pennsylvania city to ban the practice.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney supports that initiative, and he would like to see a state law enacted to make the practice illegal in the commonwealth.

“Pseudomedical practices that are cruel and unusual have no place in our great commonwealth,” Kenney said. “I think it’s extremely sad that we have to even pass this legislation, but in these times of uncertainty, we must be proactive to protect the rights and freedoms of vulnerable populations throughout the state.”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence had previously voiced support for more funding for conversion therapy. In recent months, however, he has walked back those comments.

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