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Gov. Wolf signed an executive order that protects LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy in PA.
Gov. Wolf signed an executive order that protects LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy in PA. Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images.

Gov. Tom Wolf signs executive order to protect LGBTQIA+ Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy

In an executive order signed Tues., August 16, compels state agencies to do away with the practice & will ban taxpayer money from funding it.

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Conversion therapy has been a controversial and ill-informed practice of a science that still exists in many U.S. states. Despite being discredited by most mental health professionals and organizations, it still legally exists in over 20 of them. 

According to the American Medical Association, based on medical and scientific evidence, sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be be changed. That assumption that conversion groups, and churches have ignored or denied only leads to serious physical and psychological harm. 

A 2019 study from the UCLA Williams Institute revealed that more than 73,000 LGBTQIA+ youth in America will be subjected to the practice by the time they are 18 years old. As well as an additional 16,000, who will receive the practice from a licensed healthcare professional. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed Executive Order 2022-22, which offers key protections from the practice. 

“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” said Wolf in a press release. “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.”

In recent years, many bills have been introduced that would protect the and preserve the practice and others to repeal it and ban it outright. While in Pennsylvania it is not banned outright, Wolf’s executive order provides important protections that advocates argue are crucial. 

“I want LGBTQIA+ youth and individuals across Pennsylvania to know that I stand with you. I see you, I respect you and I support you. My administration will continue to support policies to keep children safe from bullying and harmful practices,” Wolf said.

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization,  which supports LGBTQ+ youth nationally, applauded the governor’s efforts as a necessary action and an example for other states that allow the practice to still happen. 

"Thank you Gov. Wolf for your leadership and for taking bold action to protect and affirm LGBTQ young people across the Commonwealth,” said Troy Stevenson, the group's senior campaign manager for advocacy and government affairs. “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." 

The organization funded a published study on the practice and the harms it causes earlier this year. It discovered that not only does the practice cause serious emotional harm to LGBTQ+ youth, but it can also be fatal. Additionally, it comes at a high cost for individuals and society as a whole. It reportedly costs the U.S. over $9.23 billion each year. 

“We have worked tirelessly over the last year to collaboratively get this executive order drafted, through discussions with advocates, parents, and many stakeholders,” said Rafael Alvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. “With this action, the practice of conversion therapy has its days numbered in Pennsylvania — young people should never be punished for being who they are and that’s what so–called conversion therapy does, while causing sometimes irreparable trauma to individuals.” 

The study was published by JAMA Pediatrics in its medical journal and it was also discovered that those who unfortunately went through the harmful practice were more likely to attempt suicide, struggle with substance abuse issues, have higher rates of depression, and suffer huge psychological distress

“The Trevor Project’s Youth Mental Health Survey showed that rates of negative mental health outcomes among LGBTQIA+ youth are much lower in communities, schools and families that are accepting and supportive of LGBTQIA+ people. That’s why I signed this executive order to 

protect Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy and the damage it does to our communities. Because all of our youth deserve to grow up in a commonwealth that accepts and respects them,” Wolf said. 

The order calls on many agencies across the state such as the Department of Human Services, the Insurance Department and Department of State and other appropriate agencies to oversee and overall make sure that state funds, programs, and contracts are not used to provide, authorize, and refer people to the practice.

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