Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Tuesday to ban conversion therapy, a discredited form of therapy that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, for minors.
The executive order directs state agencies to discourage conversion therapy for people of all ages, and to instead promote evidence-based practices for supporting LGBTQ people. The order also directs the Department of Human Services, among other agencies, to ensure that state funds are not being used to provide or reimburse for conversion therapy.
“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement. “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. This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them.”
Survivors of conversion therapy have said that it can include talk therapy and being urged to take on traditional gender roles. A 2020 United Nations report found that it can also include more extreme practices such as aversion therapy, which can involve administering electric shock or medication to induce nausea while exposing the patient to same-sex erotic images.
The executive order makes Pennsylvania the 26th state to at least partially bar the practice for minors, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank. Twenty other states and Washington, D.C., completely ban the practice, while five states partially ban conversion therapy for minors. A federal court has barred three states — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — from enforcing conversion therapy bans. The remaining 21 states have no law or policy on conversion therapy.
Mathew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor and co-founder of Born Perfect, a national campaign to end conversion therapy, said Wolf is “taking a critical step to protect LGBTQ minors” in Pennsylvania.
“LGBTQ kids and their families are targeted by so-called therapists causing lifelong harm,” Shurka said in a statement. “This executive order demonstrates that our political offices have the power to protect our youth and it is their responsibility to do so.”
The governor’s executive order cited research that has found conversion therapy contributes to negative mental health outcomes among LGBTQ youth.
A national survey published in March by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, found that 13% of all LGBTQ respondents ages 13-24 reported being subjected to conversion therapy, and 83% of those reported being subjected to it before they turned 18. The number was higher for transgender and nonbinary young people, 18% of whom reported being subjected to conversion therapy.
A 2020 peer-reviewed study published by The Trevor Project in the American Journal of Public Health found that LGBTQ youth who experienced conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide than youth who had not experienced it, and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
“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.,” Troy Stevenson, senior campaign manager for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement citing the research the group published in March.
He added, “We urge the state legislature to pass comprehensive state-wide protections and for governors across the nation to follow the Keystone State’s lead in ending this abusive practice.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.