A committee of Philadelphia City Council took a step Monday to make the city the second in Pennsylvania to ban conversion therapy for youth.
The Committee on Public Health and Human Services unanimously approved Councilman Mark Squilla's legislation and sent it to the full Council, which will consider it at its next meeting.
"We need to stop treating the LGBTQ community as having an illness and understand that we are all human beings and should be treated equally," Squilla told PGN after the vote.
The bill would prohibit mental-health providers in the city from efforts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of clients under age 18. The controversial practice has been banned in eight states and nearly two-dozen cities; Pittsburgh became the first in Pennsylvania to prohibit conversion therapy last year.
Committee members Cindy Bass, Bill Greenlee, Derek Green and Al Taubenberger all voted in favor of the measure after hearing from three witnesses backing the bill.
Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes outlined the range of opposition to conversion therapy, from legislative efforts at municipal and state levels to position statements from all leading mental-health agencies in the nation.
"This archaic form of treatment is based on the abhorrent idealogy that same-sex attraction and behavior is a chosen abnormality and is inherently wrong," Hikes testified. She noted research that has found significant risk for depression, suicidality and substance abuse among individuals who have been exposed to conversion therapy.
"After 40 years of this harmful practice, there remains no evidence that efforts to alter sexual orientation are effective, beneficial or necessary. There is only evidence to suggest harm," she said.
Dr. Geoffrey Neimark, chief medical officer at Community Behavioral Health, called conversion therapy a "dangerous, discredited practice."
"By educating parents and the public about the harmfulness of this practice, this amendment can help improve health outcomes among vulnerable youth," Neimark testified.
"There is no medically valid basis for attempting to prevent homosexuality, which is not an illness," he added. "We recommend the adoption of therapy that provides support and acceptance of LGBT identities, facilitates the support of identity exploration and addresses problematic substance abuse or unsafe sexual practices."
Banning conversion therapy has been one of the key components of the work of Pennsylvania Youth Congress, testified executive director Jason Landau Goodman.
"Conversion therapy is a barbaric practice that has no place in civil society," Landau Goodman said. "We know this is real. We have individuals in Pennsylvania and across the country who have survivied it; [they have] resilience that many of us will never know. We're monitoring the decrease in its application but it's still legal unless you act. As Philadelphians and human beings, consider moving this bill a moral imperative. It will send a beacon to the world from Philadelphia that you are loved and affirmed for who you are, and efforts to warp your mind against yourself are inhumane and surely against the law."
Several Council members addressed the potential enforcement of the law, questioning whether it would fall under the jurisdiction of agencies like Licenses & Inspection or the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. Hikes committed her office to working with Council to develop guidance for the measure's enforcement.
Green suggested that the revocation of a practitioner's commercial license could lead to a provider simply continuing the practice under a different agency's name, Neimark noted that the bill could be amended to revoke an individual provider's individual professional license to avoid that issue.
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