Allegheny County Council to consider banning conversion therapy
A political newcomer’s challenge to a longtime Allegheny County councilman appears to have pushed the council to take up the issue of conversion therapy.
Council members Tuesday introduced a ban on the controversial and widely discredited practice used to attempt to remove a person’s feelings of same-sex attraction or to change their gender identity.
“We’re taking away children’s right to seek help, and we are interfering in parental rights,” Councilwoman Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, said in opposition to the ban during the meeting.
Cullen Boyer, 19, of Penn Hills urged council members to pass the ordinance. Boyer, who is bisexual and knows people who have experienced conversion therapy, attended the meeting after seeing posts opposing the proposed ban on Facebook.
“Please keep in mind the children and their rights, their ability, to not be forced to do this by their parents, just their overall safety,” Boyer said, calling the proposed ban “a big step forward” for the LGBTQIA community in Allegheny County.
The ban was introduced by council President John DeFazio, D-Shaler, and council member Paul Klein, D-Point Breeze. It prohibits mental health providers from using the practice.
Mental health providers are defined broadly as anyone who provides mental health services, according to the ordinance.
Klein acknowledged that the proposed ban does not include an enforcement mechanism or a punishment for those who violate it. Those are details that will likely be discussed in committee, he said. The proposed ordinance will be considered by the health and human services committee before it is returned to full council for a vote.
“It’s something that I have thought about over time, and felt that the county ought to address in some way,” Klein said, adding that he hopes that the proposed ordinance will discourage people from engaging in or continuing the practice of conversion therapy.
DeFazio has been a member of County Council since it was started in 2000. He hasn’t faced a challenger in recent elections, but his at-large council seat is contested this election by Bethany Hallam of Ross. DeFazio has not sponsored a piece of legislation since 2016. He and Klein put forth the ban on conversion therapy two weeks after Hallam called on council to introduce such a bill.
DeFazio acknowledged that he considered introducing the ordinance when he sought an endorsement from the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, which advocates for the LGBTQIA community. A question about introducing a county ban on conversion therapy appeared on a questionnaire candidates seeking the group’s endorsement must complete. Hallam has since won Steel City Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement for the county council at-large seat.
“If they bring up an idea that seems to make sense, people are for it, like myself,” DeFazio said following Tuesday’s meeting.
DeFazio said he usually looks to other people on council to introduce legislation.
“But it seemed like a lot of this was pointed at me, so I did it,” he said Tuesday.
Hallam said she thinks the timing of the bill is telling.
“I definitely think that the person who is sponsoring the bill hasn’t had an opponent for a very long time,” she said.
Pittsburgh City Council passed a similar ban on conversion therapy about two years ago. Other Pennsylvania cities, including Philadelphia and Allentown, later did the same.
The practice has not been banned statewide. But other states, including California, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Washington State, along with several municipalities in Ohio and Wisconsin, among others, have banned the practice.
Conversion therapy has been discredited by a range of national organizations, including the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, which take the position that “homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be ‘cured,’” according to a 2008 report issued by the associations.
Several people spoke against the ordinance banning conversion therapy at the meeting Tuesday.
Hallam called the ordinance “long overdue” and said she wants to see council consider specific ways not only to enforce the ordinance but also to report violations. This would include opening up communication between other county agencies or establishing an anonymous reporting line, she said.
“I think it’s a good first step,” Hallam said. “But we can’t take this ordinance and act like it’s a solution to a problem.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .