Metro Weekly

Bethlehem, Pa., votes to ban conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth

Council is expected to take a second vote to approve ban in the next month

Bethlehem, Pa. – Photo: Tim Kiser, via Wikimedia.

Bethlehem, Pa., is on track to become the eighth municipality in the Keystone State to ban conversion therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts, on LGBTQ youth.

On Tuesday, the Bethlehem City Council voted unanimously to allow the city to revoke the business license of any licensed mental health professional who subjects LGBTQ-identifying minors to the therapy, reports The Morning Call.

Even though the therapy has been panned as ineffective by major medical and mental health associations, only 13 states and the District of Columbia ban the therapy outright. Thirty-seven other municipalities throughout the country also ban conversion therapy, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown, Reading, Doylestown, Yardley Borough, and State College.

“For people to force them to go some through some type of mental brainwashing … that if they really concentrate, they can change … it’s bizarre,” said Councilman Bryan Callahan, who proposed the ban.

About 40 people spoke in favor of the ban, which contains exceptions for counseling that assists transgender people who are undergoing a gender transition, or therapies that are value-neutral that seek to curb unsafe sexual practices.

The ordinance would create a process through which people could file complaints against businesses that engage in the therapy. The complaints would then be brought before an appeals board consisting of the city health director or a designee, a licensed mental health services professional, a City Council member, and two private residents.

City Health Director Kristen Wenrich has said she supports the ban, but urged the city to research how it can be enforced. She told the Morning Call that it is her understanding that the city cannot compel personal health records.

The Council is expected to take a second and final vote to approve the ordinance later this month. Mayor Robert Donchez has also said he supports the ban, meaning it will likely be passed into law.

Editor’s Note: This piece was amended to include a conversion therapy ban that passed in Yardley Borough, Pa. That ban was contained within a larger piece of legislation prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ residents.

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