Metro Weekly

GOP Governor Nominee: It’s “Disgusting” to Limit Conversion Therapy

Doug Mastriano claims that a recent executive order infringes on parents' right to enroll their "confused" children in therapy.

Doug Mastriano – Photo: Douglas Gross, via the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Doug Mastriano, the Republican Party’s nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, has denounced efforts to limit or ban the practice of conversion therapy, seeking to reframe opposition to the therapy as tyrannical government forces taking away parental rights.

Appearing on a conservative talk show on Chambersburg-area radio station 103.7 FM, Mastriano was asked about a recent executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf that seeks to ban conversion therapy, Mastriano opined that bureaucrats were infringing on the rights of parents and therapists. He also used the opportunity to attack his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, claiming he would pursue many of the same priorities as Wolf if elected.

“This is disgusting to me,” where bureaucrats and Tom Wolf — and Josh Shapiro — think it’s okay to come in and threaten parents and therapists because their kids might be confused,” Mastriano told radio host Michele Jansen, according to Salon.

The executive order, which Wolf issued on August 16, seeks to ban or severely limit the therapy by prohibiting insurers from reimbursing therapists who engage in the practice, preventing state agencies from referring youth to therapists who engage in the practice, and ensuring state funds are not being used to pay for conversion therapy. Wolf issued the order after repeated attempts — and failures — by LGBTQ advocates to pass a ban through the Republican-dominated legislature. 

Although the order does not restrict religious leaders who are not licensed therapists from engaging in conversion therapy or discouraging LGBTQ identity, as consistent with their beliefs — which are protected by the First Amendment — opponents of Wolf, including Republicans and Christian conservatives, have falsely claimed that the order is an attack on religious institutions.

There is also nothing in the order that penalizes parents for enrolling their children in conversion therapy or strips them of their parental rights; rather, the order goes after conversion therapy from a financial angle, seeking to bar conversion therapists from profiting financially from the practice.

While most people acknowledge that sexual orientation can not be forcibly changed, particularly by utilizing extreme forms of aversion therapy that have been popular in decades past, such as induced vomiting, imposing pain on a subject, or electroshock therapy, proponents of the therapy have more recently argued that bans on “talk therapy” — designed to discourage a youth from identifying as LGBTQ — should be protected under the First Amendment based on the therapist’s personal beliefs, rather than what is best for an individual patient.

This defense of “talk therapy” has gained new momentum as a rebellion against the gender-affirming model of therapy, which some social conservatives argue has encouraged children to claim they are LGBTQ due to being “coached” by others. This has particularly gained traction among skeptics of gender identity, who have claimed transgender children, in particular, are identifying as such because of social media, societal trends, and peer pressure. 

Advocates of a ban on conversion therapy say the practice fails to do what it promises, which is actually changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. They also claim it can lead to negative mental health outcomes for those subjected to it, making them more prone to loneliness, depression, or suicidal ideation. Most mainstream medical and mental health organizations have largely dismissed conversion therapy as ineffective.

“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” Wolf said in a statement at the time he issued the order. “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.”

Shapiro, for his part, has said he would sign a law banning conversion therapy into law should the legislature pass one, and has expressed his support for a comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination law and increased mental health resources for youth

In the talk radio segment, Jansen, the host, expressed her own opposition to Wolf’s executive order, claiming that the LGBTQ movement is “an activist, political, ideological group” and “not a community of people.”

Mastriano also laid the blame on teachers for the increase in children identifying as LGBTQ, claiming they are assisting in “confusing” kids about issues of sexuality and gender and that teachers have “graphic, pornographic books laid out” in their classrooms. The latter appears to be a reference to an ongoing trend in which parents and conservative activist groups select a book they find objectionable — usually dealing with LGBTQ topics — and use it to justify banning all LGBTQ-themed works from both school libraries and public libraries on the grounds that they are inherently “sexual” or are attempting to “indoctrinate” students.

Mastriano’s past opposition to LGBTQ rights isn’t new. As state senator, he supported legislation that would bar transgender females from female-designated sports teams and to require individuals to use public bathrooms matching their assigned sex at birth. He previously endorsed legislation that would prevent same-sex couples from adopting children, and — like many other Republicans this cycle — has seized on the demonization of schools and the issue of “parental rights” to incite anger and rally people behind his campaign.

According to The Washington Post, Mastriano wrote his Master’s thesis in 2001 based on a hypothetical “left-wing Hitlerian putsch” caused by “the depredations of the country’s morally debauched civilian leaders,” including the “insertion of homosexuality in the military.” In that thesis, he opined that America had become a drug-riddled culture where people pursued hedonism and strayed from traditional religious beliefs, and that the U.S. military was the “only institution to prevent the destruction of the republic.”

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