Metro Weekly

Allegheny County Council unexpectedly bans conversion therapy

A dueling GOP-sponsored proposal would have banned only the most extreme forms of conversion therapy

Allegheny County Council – Photo: Facebook.

In an unexpected move, the Allegheny County Council passed a measure barring licensed mental health providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ minors.

The ordinance, which has been being discussed since March 2019, passed 13-2 on Tuesday after twelve of the council’s 15 members voted to bypass the committee process, bringing up the measure for final consideration. A similar ordinance was passed unanimously by the Pittsburgh City Council in 2016. 

Many people were surprised at the move to expedite the ordinance’s passage, given how long it has been since the issue was first raised and the lack of action on it.

“I never thought it would happen tonight,” David West, 52, of Franklin Park, Pa., told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought we’d just lay the groundwork tonight. I’m pleasantly shocked.”

West, the father of a transgender teen, was among 14 people, including several mental health professionals, who spoke in favor of the ordinance, believing that it would then head through the regular committee process.

Councilman Paul Klein (D-Point Breeze), the chief sponsor of the ordinance, argued that conversion therapy is a public health and safety threat, noting that the therapy has been criticized and rejected by every mainstream mental health or medical organization.

But Cindy Kirk (R-McCandless), one of the two council members to vote against the measure, argued that the Council shouldn’t be trying to regulate how psychiatrists and medical providers do their jobs.

“I’ve had many physicians stop me in the hallway and say ‘Who do you think you are?'” Kirk said. “Who am I to tell them how to practice their practice?”

The other member voting no, Councilman Sam DeMarco (R-At-Large), sponsored a dueling measure that would have banned certain methods of conversion therapy, such as electroshock therapy or forced vomiting, but would keep “gender dysphoria treatment” and other “self-determined objectives” for minors legal, so long as a parent signs off on it.

DeMarco’s bill was not brought up for a vote. He later told the Post-Gazette he was “disappointed,” saying he wanted to provide “freedom of choice” for parents and children.

But Jill Grenda, 47, of Cranberry, who drove from nearby Butler County with her teen to show support for LGBTQ youth, pushed back against the idea that DeMarco’s talking points.

“Whether they say it’s a choice or not for the kids, it’s not,” she said. “It’s the parent’s decision … so banning it prevents that from happening.”

Read more:

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Three female athletes sue Connecticut over transgender women competing in sports


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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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