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Issue: Conversion Therapy in Allegheny County

 

IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED - ALLEGHENY COUNCIL TO VOTE SOON
Contact your council members:    

 The Allegheny County Council is considering a proposed ordinance, No. 11000-19, (attached at bottom) that would ban counseling "conversion therapy" for minors seeking help to work through unwanted same-sex attraction, feelings, or behaviors.


This ban would protect young people who identify as gay, transgender and nonbinary from being forced into medically unjustified, seriously harmful and traumatic psychotherapy by "counselors" (including pastors, religious leaders, teachers, licensed therapists) who seek to coerce them into complying with someone else's definition of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  

 

We support this bill because the practice of conversion "therapy" is pseudoscientific nonsense. Therapy is the process of resolving problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues, and/or somatic responses (sensations in the body). Identifying as LGBTQIA+ is not a problem, and does not require "therapy." It has been widely opposed by the medical community for years, including by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Conversion “therapy” is cruel and causes suffering in children. The Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization, concluded that conversion therapy, “lack[s] medical justification and represent[s] a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” Being gay isn’t wrong. Being trans isn’t wrong.

The expression of sexual orientation and gender identity is a fundamental human right. When a child, any child, is subject to the torture of "conversion therapy," our community suffers. When we allow this to happen, we are allowing members of our community to have their humanity erased. We can no longer allow this to happen to our community.


Contact your City Council Members 

 

Please help ensure your elected Allegheny County Council passes legislation which protects children under age 18 from harmful and medically unsanctioned conversion therapy.  “Conversion therapy is any treatment that involves any attempt(s) to convert an individual's sexual orientation or to convert an individual who identifies with a gender other than the gender assigned at birth to the originally assigned gender.”  Certain practices common to conversion therapy such as lobotomies, shock treatment, nausea-inducing drugs are banned, but this legislation is seeking to follow the recommendation of over 30 major medical organizations including the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and World Psychiatric Association, to eliminate all proven ineffective and harmful practices offered by mental health care providers.


For this ordinance to pass, three things much occur, a majority vote of the Health and Human Services Committee must occur, then a majority vote of the full county council must occur.  Finally, county executive Rich Fitzgerald must not veto this.  Of these sixteen individuals, five are in support, two are opposed, and nine are undecided or have not spoken on the topic.  These votes should be occurring shortly.  You voice is important on this landmark local decision around Ordinance 11000-19 banning Conversion therapy for minors.

  

Please  click here to urge your undecided representative to support this legislation.  You can also call directly to into general office number for Allegheny County Council at 412-350-6490 and express your support for this ordinance.  Also note that the next County Council meeting will be held on May 22 if you would like to attend or speak.


Proposed Ordinance  No. 11000-19

An Ordinance amending and supplementing the Allegheny County Code of Ordinances, Division 5, entitled "Health and Sanitation," through the creation of a new Chapter 540, entitled "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Therapy,” in order to protect the health, safety and well-being of minors living within the County. 

WHEREAS, the practice of LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy or reparative therapy is formally opposed by the following organizations: American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American College of Physicians, American Counseling 

Association, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, American School Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Pan American Health Organization: Regional Office of the World Health Organization, and World Psychiatric Association; and, 

WHEREAS, a report by the American Psychological Association cites the severe mental health problems caused by sexual orientation conversion efforts, including depression, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, dehumanization, feelings of hostility and anger, and suicidal thoughts, and in November of 2018 expressly called upon lawmakers throughout the country to ban conversion therapy as a “harmful and discriminatory practice”; and, 

WHEREAS, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry determined that no evidence exists to prove the efficacy or necessity of conversion therapy and concluded that same-sex attraction is neither an illness nor a mental health disorder and therefore, cannot be altered by conversion therapy; and, 

WHEREAS, the American Counseling Association (ACA) also affirmed that homosexuality is not listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is used by mental health and medical professional organizations to determine best 

es for treatment of various conditions, and the ACA also cites a study by the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, stating that 50% of individuals who were subjected to conversion therapy reported harmful psychological effects; and, 

WHEREAS, the County of Allegheny has a vested interest in protecting the psychological and physical well-being of all minors and preventing the serious harms 

caused by sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression conversion efforts; and, 

WHEREAS, it is the judgment of Council that prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy for minors within the geographic borders of Allegheny County will inure to the benefit of those residents; 

The Council of the County of Allegheny hereby enacts as 

follows: 

SECTION 1. Incorporation of the Preamble. 

The preamble to this Ordinance is hereby incorporated in its entirety herein. 

SECTION 2. Amendment of the Code. 

The Allegheny County Code of Ordinances, Division 5, entitled "Health and Sanitation," is hereby amended and supplemented through the creation of a new Chapter 540, entitled “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Therapy," and comprised as follows: 

Chapter 540 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Therapy 

$540-1. Definitions. 

A

"Conversion Therapy” means any treatment that involves any attempt(s) to convert an individual's sexual orientation or to convert an individual who identifies with a gender other than the gender assigned at birth to the originally assigned gender, regardless of whether such attempt is the primary goal of treatment. 

“Mental Health Provider” means any individual who provides, to an individual or a group, mental health services, including but not limited to, the assessment or improvement of mental, emotional, psychiatric, psychological, or psychosocial adjustment or functioning, regardless of whether there is a diagnosable, pre existing disorder or disease. 

“Minor” means a person less than eighteen (18) years of age. 

“Reparative Therapy” has the same meaning of “conversion therapy” as defined in $540-1.A. 

“Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Conversion Efforts” means Conversion Therapy, Reparative Therapy or any other practices by mental health professionals that involve any attempt(s) to convert an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, including efforts to change behaviors, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex, regardless of whether such attempt is the primary goal of treatment. “Sexual orientation or gender identity or expression conversion efforts” does not include psychotherapies that provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients' coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices, and psychotherapies that do not seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. 

$540-2. Prohibited conduct. 

No Mental Health Provider shall engage, within the geographic boundaries of Allegheny County, in Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression Conversion Efforts or Reparative Therapy as defined under the terms of $540-1 of this Chapter with a minor, without regard to whether such Mental Health Provider is compensated or receives any form of remuneration for his or her services. 

$540-3. No limitation on other statutory remedies. 

No portion of this Chapter shall be read or interpreted to alter, enlarge, limit, or in any way otherwise impact rights and remedies available to patients in relation to mental health professionals under the terms of any applicable Commonwealth licensing certification or registration statute that expressly specifies, enables or incorporates professional/ethical practice standards and/or regulations, including but not limited to the Pennsylvania Professional Psychologists Practice Act (63 P.S. $1201, et seq.) and the Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act (63 P.S. $1901, et. seq.) 

SECTION 2. Effective Date. 

The provisions of this Ordinance shall become effective immediately upon final approval. 

SECTION 3. Severability. If any provision of this Ordinance shall be determined to be unlawful, invalid, void or unenforceable, then that provision shall be considered severable from the remaining provisions of this Ordinance which shall be in full force and effect. 

SECTION 4. Repealer. Any Resolution or Ordinance or part thereof conflicting with the provisions of this Ordinance is hereby repealed so far as the same affects this Ordinance. 

PRIMARY SPONSOR: PRESIDENT DeFAZIO and COUNCIL MEMBER KLEIN 

CO-SPONSORS: 

Enacted in Council, this 

day of 

, 2019, 

Council Agenda No. 

John P. DeFazio President of Council 

Attest: 

Jared E. Barker, Chief Clerk Allegheny County Council 

Chief Executive Office 

2019 

Approved: 

Rich Fitzgerald Chief Executive 

Attest: 

Sonya Dietz Executive's Secretary  

Conversion Therapy


BORN PERFECT: THE FACTS ABOUT CONVERSION THERAPY

Born Perfect: The Facts About Conversion Therapy


LEARN MORE: 
What Is Conversion Therapy?
What Are Some Examples of Conversion Therapy?
What Do Mainstream Mental Health Professionals Say About Conversion Therapy?
Can Any Type of Therapy Change a Person’s Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity?
How Bad is Conversion Therapy?
Do Any States Protect Youth From Conversion Therapy?
What Do These Laws Do?
Why Are These Laws Needed?
Have These Laws Been Challenged in Court?
What Can I Do if I Find Out That a California or New Jersey Licensed Mental Health Care Provider Is Practicing Conversion Therapy?
How Can I Help Enact a Similar Law in My State?
LGBT Youth

What Is Conversion Therapy?

The practices used in conversion therapy are sometimes referred to as:

  • Reparative Therapy
  • Ex-Gay Therapy
  • Psychological Abuse
  • Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) 

What Are Some Examples of Conversion Therapy?

In the past, some mental health professionals resorted to extreme measures such as institutionalization, castration, and electroconvulsive shock therapy to try to stop people from being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Today, while some counselors still use physical treatments like aversive conditioning, the techniques most commonly used include a variety of behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytic, and other practices that try to change or reduce same-sex attraction or alter a person’s gender identity. While these contemporary versions of conversion therapy are less shocking and extreme than some of those more frequently used in the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers to patients—especially to minors, who are often forced to undergo them by their parents or legal guardians, and who are at especially high risk of being harmed.

According to a 2009 report of the American Psychological Association, the techniques therapists have used to try to change sexual orientation and gender identity include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; providing electric shocks; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; orgasmic reconditioning; and satiation therapy. Other techniques include trying to make patients’ behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills, using hypnosis to try to redirect desires and arousal, and other techniques—all based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBT is a defect or disorder.

The current practice guidelines for the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which is a group of therapists who endorse and practice conversion therapy in the United States, encourage its members to consider techniques that include hypnosis, behavior and cognitive therapies, sex therapies, and psychotropic medication, among others.

Click here to read firsthand accounts of the harms caused by conversion therapy.

What Do Mainstream Mental Health Professionals Say About Conversion Therapy?

All of the nation’s leading professional medical and mental health associations have rejected conversion therapy as unnecessary, ineffective, and dangerous. These groups have cautioned that the practices do not work and have warned patients that they may be harmful. For example, the American Psychological Association “advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”

The American Psychiatric Association “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated: “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”

The Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization, has stated that these practices “lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”

Click here to read more official statements condemning conversion therapy.

Can Any Type of Therapy Change a Person’s Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity?

No. In 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted a comprehensive review of the published literature on these practices and concluded that they are not supported by any reliable evidence. In fact, the APA found that the opposite was true: “The results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex sexual attractions or increase other-sex attractions through SOCE.”

Similarly, in 2000, the American Psychiatric Association published a statement concluding that: “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”

Click here to read research that conversion therapy is ineffective and harmful.

How Bad is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy can be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding that the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

The risks are even greater for youth.  Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity face especially serious health risks. Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

In one highly publicized case from the early 1970s, psychologist George Rekers treated a five-year-old boy named Kirk Murphy, who had exhibited stereotypically feminine behavior such as a preference for girls’ toys. Rekers instructed Murphy’s parents to reward him for exhibiting “masculine” behavior and to punish him (by ignoring or even spanking him) when he displayed “feminine” behavior. Rekers claimed this treatment would prevent the boy from becoming gay. Later, Rekers published an article citing his treatment of Murphy as a success story, which Rekers and other proponents of these practices continue to use to deceive other parents and entrap other clients struggling with the stigma and discrimination faced by LGBT people. In fact, however, Murphy was gay in adulthood, and struggled with the severe psychological distress caused by Rekers’s “treatments” throughout his life. Murphy attempted to take his own life when he was about 17, and died by suicide at the age of 38.

Click here to read firsthand accounts of the harms caused by conversion therapy.

Do Any States Protect Youth From Conversion Therapy?

In 2012, California became the first state to protect LGBT youth from dangerous and scientifically discredited efforts by state-licensed therapists to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. This law (Senate Bill 1172) prohibits therapists who are licensed by the State of California from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18. In 2013, New Jersey enacted a second law (Assembly Bill 3371). Oregon, Illinois, New York, Vermont, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Seattle, and three South Florida Cities–Miami Beach, Wilton Manors, and Miami–have since enacted similar protections. Today, NCLR is working with leaders in dozens of states to protect youth from the dangerous practice.

Click here to find out if a law has been passed or introduced in your state.

What Do These Laws Do?

Laws passed in California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Illinois, and Vermont, as well as bills introduced in many other states, prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a young person under 18 years of age.

The laws describe these practices as “conversion therapy” and/or “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), which is the scientific term used by the American Psychological Association and other groups that have warned patients about these scientifically discredited and dangerous practices. The laws define “conversion therapy” and “sexual orientation change efforts” to include any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expression, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.

The laws also state that the regulated practices do not include therapies that provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral efforts to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices. They specifically exempt therapy designed to aid a person in a transition from one gender to another

The Illinois law additionally prohibits any person from advertising conversion therapy services.

Why Are These Laws Needed?

These laws are needed to ensure that therapists who are licensed by the state are providing competent care and are not harming patients.  Before 1973, many mental health organizations inaccurately considered same-sex attraction to be a mental illness. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed “homosexuality” from its official list of mental disorders. For decades, the American Psychiatric Association has recognized that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a mental illness and that trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is ineffective and dangerous.  Despite this consensus, some therapists continue to engage in these discredited and unsafe practices.

These laws are especially needed to protect minors, who are almost always forced or coerced to undergo conversion therapy. These state-licensed practitioners frequently prey on well-intentioned parents and legal guardians who do not understand that they are putting their children at risk of serious harm.

The state has a strong interest in ensuring that licensed health care providers follow professional standards of competence and do not engage in dangerous practices that have no scientific basis and put patients at risk of severe and long-lasting damage.

Click here to find out how you can pass a law in your state.

Have These Laws Been Challenged in Court? 

After California Governor Jerry Brown signed California’s bill into law, two anti-LGBT groups filed lawsuits claiming that it violates their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion and is unconstitutionally vague. These claims have no merit. Many laws regulate the conduct of licensed therapists when dealing with patients, and these laws are just as valid as other regulations that require licensed professionals to provide safe, competent care and protect patients from harm and abuse. A panel of the United States Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the California law is valid, and the Supreme Court of the United States declined review. The same anti-LGBT groups then filed challenges to the law in New Jersey, where a federal district court upheld it as well. The Supreme Court of the United States declined review in this case also.

Click here to learn more about NCLR’s work defending these laws in court.

What Can I Do if I Find Out that a California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Illinois, or Vermont Licensed Mental Health Care Provider Is Practicing Conversion Therapy?

Different licensing boards regulate different types of mental health professionals. If you discover that a California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Illinois, or Vermont mental health provider is engaging in these practices with a minor, please contact NCLR.

How Can I Help Enact a Similar Law in my State?

NCLR is providing support and assistance to advocates who are seeking to enact such laws across the country. If you would like to help enacting a similar law in your state, please contact #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator & Youth Policy Counsel Carolyn Reyes at BornPerfect@NCLRights.org.

Click here to find out what else you can do.

LGBT Youth

LGBT youth in crisis should contact The Trevor Project at www.TheTrevorProject.org