Reading bans conversion therapy

Reading just became the fourth municipality in Pennsylvania to ban conversion therapy for minors. 

Reading City Council voted unanimously to ban the controversial practice Monday and Mayor Wally Scott signed the legislation Thursday. 

Scott spoke with PGN prior to the signing. 

“[Therapists are] there to help but [they’re also] there to listen and it’s not up to [them] to decide what a person should do. I think [they] should sit there, listen to everything a person has to say and then [they] must be supportive to whatever [patients] decide to do.

“None of us has the right to tell a person how to live their life,” Scott added.

Councilman John Slifko introduced the legislation Dec. 4 with the support of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center executive director Adrian Shanker and LGBT Center of Greater Reading president Jocelyn Young.

Shanker noted the message Reading is sending to LGBT youth. 

“Every time a municipality takes action to protect LGBT people, whether it’s nondiscrimination or to protect youth from conversion therapy, they are sending a strong message that their municipality is a progressive place to be for LGBT people,” he said.

Shanker added that “LGBT people are fine just the way they are and conversion therapy is a debunked, harmful unscientific practice that unfortunately continues to be promoted by some mental-health professionals. Banning this practice is critical to ensuring the health of LGBT youth.” 

Young noted the importance of getting legislation passed on the local level.

“We know how the current political situation is on the federal and state level: not in our favor. It’s always blocked because of politics and it’s up to city councils like Reading — at the grassroots level — to make these changes.”

Young said it is a “shame” for youth to go through these conditions. 

“There’s no reason they have to be forced to become someone they’re not. Because when you really look at it, it doesn’t help anyone. It winds up creating issues. You have additional substance-abuse problems that society doesn’t need. It also creates problems with suicide. No child should have to go through that. There’s enough things going on in the life of a teenager that could push them in that direction but conversion therapy shouldn’t be one of them, especially when it’s under the guise of helping.” 

The Reading bill is modeled after anti-conversion-therapy legislation approved in Allentown last summer. Shanker worked with attorneys from National Center for Lesbian Rights and Philadelphia-based Jerner & Palmer, P.C., to draft both measures. 

The ordinance allows the city to revoke business-privilege licenses of mental-health practitioners if they are found to violate the new measure. There is an exemption for pastoral care.

Businesses with licenses revoked can take cases to the board of appeals and then, if unsuccessful, to the county court.

Reading joins Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and several-dozen cities, nine states and Washington, D.C., as areas that outlawed conversion therapy. 

“I hope the Pennsylvania state legislature takes note of what municipalities are doing to protect LGBT youth from this harmful practice and considers taking action on their own to fully protect LGBT youth across Pennsylvania from conversion therapy,” Shanker said. 

In a statement, Equality Pennsylvania interim executive director John Dawe said that while Reading’s accomplishment is “remarkable,” there is still further work to do. 

“We also call on the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Gov. Tom Wolf, and municipal leaders across the state to take action to ban this horrific and often barbaric practice in all corners of the Commonwealth.”