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90.5 WESA's collection of stories on race, diversity, LGBT, gender and age-related stories.

Pittsburgh Proposes The State's First Conversion Therapy Ban

Leslie Chatfield

Pittsburgh could become the first municipality in the state to ban conversion therapy for minors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. City Council introduced legislation Tuesday that would prevent parents and guardians from forcing youth to undergo the practice.   

The practice is meant to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of the individual undergoing the treatment. Types of conversion therapy could include aversive techniques like electroshock treatment and the administration of nausea-inducing drugs. Patients can also be subjected to hormonal treatments and spiritual or religious interventions.

Council President Bruce Kraus and Councilman Dan Gilman are sponsoring the legislation. Kraus, who is the first openly gay councilmember, said he’s “alarmed and troubled” by anyone who forces children into this kind of reparative therapy.

“The very soul of a human being is formed at the earliest stages of life,” Kraus said. “This damning and damaging rhetoric of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people being inherently damaged and flawed and therefore need to be corrected or converted in some way is offensive to me on every level.”

Conversion therapy has been discredited by many medical organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Counseling Association. It’s been banned in five states and the District of Columbia, as well as the cities of Seattle, Miami and Cincinnati.

Vice-President-elect Mike Pence has advocated for the controversial practice in the past, bringing the issue in the news recently. He’s suggested diverting funds used for HIV/AIDS patients to reparative therapy services.

Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said he’s encouraged by council’s actions.

“This is especially important to very vulnerable LBGTQ youth populations,” Goodman said. “Pittsburgh City Council will certainly be sending a strong message of inclusion and affirmation by adopting such regulation.”

Goodman said Pittsburgh is the first municipality in Pennsylvania to propose such a ban. 

Research by the American Psychological Association in 2007 revealed minors who were forced to undergo conversion therapy were more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide and six times more likely to report high levels of depression.

No other city in the commonwealth has passed such an ordinance. Kraus said he doesn’t anticipate the measure meeting resistance.

“I have worked with this council for nine years now,” Kraus said. “I find them to be enlightened and progressive and very forward-thinking.”

Council will meet next week to take a preliminary vote on the bill. 

(Photo credit: Leslie Chatfield/flickr)