Wolf signs order to ‘discourage’ conversion therapy; full ban needs legislative action

Screenshot via PAcast.com

Gov. Tom Wolf signs an executive order intended to protect Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Tuesday intended to protect Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ+ population, especially youth, from conversion therapy, directing all state agencies to discourage the practice “widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals.”

A full ban, however, would need legislative action. To date, bills seeking to accomplish just that are stalled.

The Human Rights Coalition describes the practice as “dangerous and discredited,” one in which a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is sought to be changed. Twenty states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico all have laws or regulations protecting against conversion therapy, according to the organization.

“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” Wolf said, adding that extensive research finds the practice leads to worse mental health outcomes for those subjected to it. “This executive order is the best I can do absent that legislation.”

Wolf’s executive order directs state agencies to discourage conversion therapy in Pennsylvania and protect people from undergoing the practice, often promoted by extremist, sometimes unaffiliated, religious leaders. It orders the agencies to actively promote evidence-based best practices for LGBTQ+ people.

One specific protection is that the Department of Human Services and the Insurance Department are tasked to investigate complaints about providers who authorized the therapy or sought cost reimbursement.

These two agencies along with the Department of State and any other appropriate agencies are charged with ensuring state resources including funding aren’t used for any purpose related to conversion therapy to the extent permitted by law. Wolf told the press Tuesday that he was unaware of any specific state funding having been used on conversion therapy.

The Department of Human Services is directed to develop resource guides outlining science and evidence-based best practices on family preservation and local supports to support LGBTQ+ people and their families.

“Young people should never be punished for being who they are and that’s what so-called conversion therapy does while causing sometimes irreparable trauma to individuals,” said Rafael Alvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.

State Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, and state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Delaware/Philadelphia, each proposed legislation in 2021 seeking to ban conversion therapies. Both bills have remained with assigned committees and haven’t been put to vote.

In announcing the executive order, the Wolf Administration referred to a peer-reviewed study from The Trevor Project which found that 13% of LGBTQ+ youth nationwide reported having been subjected to conversion therapy. Of them, the report found that 83% were under the age of 18.

Youth who endure conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide, the study found.

“Taxpayers’ dollars must never again be spent on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion ‘therapy’ — which has been consistently associated with increased suicide risk and an estimated $9.23 billion economic burden in the U.S.,” said Troy Stevenson, senior campaign manager for Advocacy and Government Affairs of The Trevor Project.

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