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January 19, 2017

Kenney, Sims want to ban 'conversion therapy' for minors in Pa.

Elected officials call the practice cruel and unfounded

Pennsylvania officials held a joint news conference Thursday afternoon calling for statewide legislation that would ban "conversion therapy" for minors, calling the practice cruel and unfounded. 

State Rep. Brian Sims joined Mayor Jim Kenney and Dr. Gail Edelsohn, president-elect of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, in Philadelphia to discuss the form of therapy intended to change a person's sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to straight.

"For longer than I have been alive, the American Medical Association has declared that homosexuality is not a medical condition that needs to be cured," Sims said."There are people claiming to practice conversion therapy as some form of science or medicine and it is neither. We are seeing children abused all across the commonwealth because of conversion therapy."

State Sen. Anthony Williams and Sims are already lead sponsors of legislation in the House and Senate. Councilman Mark Squilla also proposed a similar ban in December at a city level.

Williams introduced Senate Bill No. 45 in January 2015. The bill prohibits "mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual under 18 years of age." A spokesperson for Williams said the bill will be reintroduced as Senate Bill No. 44 soon.

Sims, the first openly gay elected representative in Pennsylvania, introduced a similar piece of legislation, House Bill 1811, in 2013. Sims, along with Rep. Gerald Mullery, announced in March 2015 that they planned to reintroduce the bill in the future, citing that conversion therapy has harmful effects on those under the age of 18.

Kenney called conversion therapy a "gross violation of LGBT rights."

"I think it's extremely sad that we have to pass this legislation, but in these times of [conservativeness] we must be proactive," Kenney said.

Williams and Sims, along with other Pennsylvania politicians, also announced Tuesday that the state is giving $1.5 million to the expansion of the Mazzoni Center, which aims to improve the lives of the LGBTQ community. 

The joint news conference Thursday came ahead of President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence's inaugurations on Friday.

Pence has been accused of supporting forms of "conversion therapy," although a spokesperson has denied the allegation, explaining that a campaign statement had been misunderstood, according to The New York Times.

The statement from Pence's 2000 run for Congress reads: "Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior."

Sexual conversion therapy is illegal in California, Vermont, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, D.C. Towns and cities across the country also have taken actions to ban it.

In December, Pittsburgh became the first Pennsylvania city to ban "ex-gay" therapy for individuals younger than 18 years old.