Pennsylvania governor signs executive order banning LGBTQ+ conversion therapy

·4 min read

Story at a glance

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Tuesday signed an executive order that bans conversion therapy practices across the state.

  • State agencies under the order are directed to ensure that state funds or other resources are not used to provide, endorse or authorize conversion therapy.

  • Conversion therapy practices have been condemned by most major medical associations, and several studies have shows that LGBTQ+ youth who experience conversion therapy are more likely to face mental health challenges like anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Tuesday issued an executive order that bans conversion therapy in the state, joining more than a dozen other states in at least partially condemning the discredited practice.

State agencies under the executive order are directed to promote “evidence-based best practices” for LGBTQ+ youth and adjust their policies and procedures to better serve Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ+ community.

The order also directs the state Department of Human Services, Insurance Department and Department of State to ensure that state funds, programs, contracts, and other resources are not used to provide or endorse conversion therapy, which Wolf in a statement on Tuesday said is a practice that “actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat.”

“This discriminatory practice is widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals and has been proven to lead to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ youth subjected to it,” Wolf said. “This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them.”

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Major medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association have condemned conversion therapy as a discredited practice that is based on an “unfounded misconception of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Medical experts and LGBTQ+ advocates have warned that conversion therapy practices are not only unnecessary and ineffective, but also incredibly damaging to those who experience them.

A 2020 report from the Williams Institute, a public policy think tank focused on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, found that lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the U.S. were nearly twice as likely to report having suicidal thoughts when they had experienced some form of conversion therapy.

The same study found that 7 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual 18- to 59-year-olds had experienced conversion therapy at some point in their lives, most of them from religious leaders. Around a third of adults said they had received conversion therapy from a health care provider.

A 2021 study from The Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention group, found that around 13 percent of LGBTQ+ youth had been subjected to conversion therapy to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, including 83 percent who underwent conversion therapy while under 18.

Trevor Project researchers in March determined that the “direct” costs of conversion therapy – health insurance reimbursements or fees to religious organizations that perform conversion therapy – compounded with the “indirect” costs of conversion therapy – treatment for anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide attempts – are costing the government roughly $9.23 billion each year.

On Tuesday, Wolf cited another recent finding from The Trevor Project that rates of negative mental health outcomes among LGBTQ+ youth are much lower in communities, schools and families that are accepting and supportive of their identities.

“That’s why I signed this executive order to protect Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy and the damage it does to our communities,” Wolf said. “Because all of our youth deserve to grow up in a commonwealth that accepts and respects them.”

“Conversion therapy is causing horrific consequences for the mental health and well-being of a generation of young LGBTQIA+ individuals. But there is something very simple that we can all do to help,” Wolf added. “We can stand up and tell LGBTQIA+ youth that we hear them and we accept them exactly as they are.”

Including Pennsylvania, 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws or policies in place banning conversion therapy for minors, and five states have partial bans, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks such measures.

Three states – Alabama, Georgia and Florida – are located in a federal judicial circuit with an injunction that prevents the enforcement of bans on conversion therapy practices.

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