Even as Virginia lawmakers refuse to take action on any LGBTQ-related legislation, just down the road from the state capitol, the Harrisburg City Council has voted to officially condemn the practice of conversion therapy.
The council unanimously approved the resolution denouncing efforts to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, in the hope of not only calling the attention of state lawmakers to the issue, but passing a bill early next year to officially ban the practice in the city.
The resolution notes that being “lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming,” and “urges all medical and mental health professionals to help remove the stigma of mental illness that has far too long been associated with homosexuality.”
Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors, either by statute or through insurance regulations. Several dozen municipalities, including cities in Pennsylvania like Pittsburgh, Bethlehem, and Allentown, also ban the therapy by fining or penalizing mental health professionals and counselors who engage in it with censure or the loss of their license.
Critics of conversion therapy say it is ineffective, has no scientific basis, and can have harmful ramifications for those subjected to it, who can experience depression, heightened anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.
“I’m proud to say that all my colleagues on the council stood with me on this and we kind of took that journey together and I’m happy with the outcome,” Council Vice President Ben Allatt, who is openly gay and a survivor of conversion therapy, told CBS affiliate Local News 21. “I hope that younger people can see this and people now that we’re with them.”
A study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law estimates that 698,000 American adults have been subjected to conversion therapy at some point in their lives, the majority of whom did so as adolescents. An estimated 20,000 adolescents aged 13 to 17 could potentially be subjected to the therapy at the hands of a licensed health practitioner before they reach adulthood in states like Pennsylvania that lack a statewide ban.
Allatt says he wants to help raise awareness about what he sees as the harms caused by conversion therapy.
“I think sometimes I get accused of trying to advance a ‘quote unqoute’ gay agenda, and I think that if people just really stop for a minute, understand a little more about what conversion therapy is and does they’ll understand it has nothing to do with my personal agenda,” he said. “It has everything to do with doing the right thing by our community.”