Gay conversion therapy did not end after New York City’s Stonewall Riots of 1969 nor after the national legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.
On the contrary, advocates of the long-discredited practice applauded the election of Donald Trump and hope his administration and the Republican Congress will ward off attempts to outlaw it.
But a group of Pennsylvania legislators say they aim to protect LGBT youth in the state by adopting a law that would ban gay conversion therapy.
If passed, Pennsylvania Senate Bill 44 will “prohibit mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual under 18 years of age.”
State Rep. Brian Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat, originally introduced legislation to ban the practice in 2013. He endorses Senate Bill 44 and plans to reintroduce his bill in the House later this year.
While the Trump administration aims to weaken protections for the LGBT community, Sims believes 2017 is the year for advancing LGBT rights in Pennsylvania. To secure passage of the bill, he hopes to educate his Republican colleagues who are the majority party in both the Senate and the House.
“Every day, more Republicans are realizing that if they want to be Republicans in 2025, they need to stop seeming like they are stuck in 1955,” Sims said. “Moderate to centrist Republicans see support for LGBT rights from their constituency.”
Any “reparative” or “conversion” therapy designed to change a person’s homosexual orientation is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and other institutions that set standards for acceptable and effective mental health treatment. All major mental health organizations say that the practice is harmful for children and adults alike.
Social worker and activist Michelle Taylor recently used Twitter to blast local psychologist Dr. Umar Johnson, who she said is among the few harmful mental health professionals who continue these practices, despite condemnation from his peers.
“He’s public about his homophobia,” Taylor said. “It’s sickening that people believe what he says.”
Johnson did not respond to interview requests. He publicly states that the LGBT community is “confused” and has said that gay educators should not be allowed to work in schools.
Taylor believes that professionals like him encourage parents to seek conversion treatments when their children come out.
“This goes against everything we stand for,” she said. “If you are a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker, you commit to doing no harm to the people you work with. Gay conversion therapy is harmful.”
Dr. Benoit Dubé, a senior fellow at the Penn Medicine Program for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health, says outlawing gay conversion therapy is vital for both patient safety and enforcing standards for mental health treatment.
“This law can add an extra layer of accountability,” said Dubé, who is also psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “We are protecting children from therapeutic abuse.”
Dubé recalled one case involving a young patient whose parent sought treatment for their child. He saw signs that this parent couldn’t come to terms with their child being gay.
“The parent really was the patient,” Dubé said. “You hear about these things, but I never thought this would happen in Philadelphia.”
Five states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws outlawing the practice of gay conversion therapy. Pennsylvania could be next.
“We are a moral majority who has been empowered - if not enraged by what is happening,” said Rep. Sims.