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State legislators form 'new coalition' to end conversion therapy

State Rep. Brian Sims and Sen. Anthony Williams said they've formed a "new coalition" to end the practice of anti-gay conversion therapy for minors.

conversion therapy brian sims anthony williams State Sen. Anthony Williams (left) and state Rep. Brian Sims.
Credit: Alex Wigglesworth / Metro

State Rep. Brian Sims and state Sen. Anthony Williams on Tuesday announced their combined efforts to ban Pennsylvania medical practitioners from performing conversion therapy on minors in an attempt to change their sexual orientation to heterosexual.

"This isn't about Republicans or Democrats," said Sims, who will this term introduce a bill banning the practice.

"This isn't' about civil rights so much as it is about medicine and about data. And what we know is that this is quack science."

He said conversion therapy, which has been linked to increased incidences of suicide and suicidal ideation among youths, is not based on empirical data.

"Almost four decades of science and medicine that says if you are LGBTQ, just like me, that there is nothing wrong with you, that you are not broken, you don't need to be fixed and you don't need to have a diagnosis, and that being LGBT, like so many other characteristics in your life, some days will be a blessing and some days will be a burden, but is not something that needs to be fixed or can be fixed and that you are just fine the way you are," Sims said.

Williams introduced similar legislation in the Senate in April.

"I am not of gay descent, but trust me, I understand what it means to be an outcast," he said.

"I know what it feels to walk into a room and people question why you're there simply because you look different or act different. And I understand that if my parents had ever thought there was a problem with me being an African American, the last thing they would have done was send me to therapy because I thought I was something other than what they thought I should be. This type of therapy deserves the utmost, utmost damnation from any state."

He said the two legislators have formed a "new coalition" to end discrimination of all types.

"Whether you are gay or straight it really doesn't matter," he said.

"If you are about protecting human beings, promoting human dignity, protecting our young people, then these coalitions are significant. This work will not simply stop with this bill. It will continue and build."

Sims said, given the secretive nature of many conversion therapy practitioners, he's still deciding how to best enforce the proposed ban.

"One of the things that we'll be working out as the bill is introduced is trying to figure out what angle to come at this from, whether it's going to be a professional licensure issue or whether it's going to be criminal penalties," he said.

Williams said the push is as much of a battle to win over minds as it is to win over the legislature.

"It's just as when we had recently our debate about same-sex marriage, which apparently we're still going through in Pennsylvania," he said.

"If you look at the polling data, literally, last year in Pennsylvania and look at the polling data today in Pennsylvania, because of, not the law, but because of the conversation, perspectives are evolving. Our expectation is similar to that."

 
 
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