Sunday December 10, 2017
Two area LGBT leaders are looking for Reading to help lead the charge against conversion therapy and expose a gap in the oversight of licensed therapists.
Jocelyn Young, president of the LGBT Center of Greater Reading, and Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, urged City Council at its committee meeting Monday to follow the lead of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown and 24 other municipalities across the country in passing an ordinance banning conversion therapy on minors.
Nine states and the District of Columbia also have laws forbidding the practice.
"Conversion therapy is a debunked, unscientific and harmful practice," Shanker said.
The practice, sometimes called reparative or affirmative therapy, is defined on the American Psychological Association's website as "counseling and psychotherapy aimed at eliminating or suppressing homosexuality." It can also be used to try to change a person's gender identity as well.
The association describes conversion therapy as unethical, potentially harmful and adds "the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among any mainstream health and mental health professional organizations."
Young stated that proponents of the therapy believe one's sexual orientation or gender identity is a choice, which is not the case.
"This is the way we were born, and there's scientific evidence to support that," she said.
Two major outcomes of conversion therapy are substance abuse and suicide, according to Young.
Many youth are compelled to receive the therapy by family members who would kick them out of their homes otherwise, not giving kids much of a choice, Young said.
"Our youth have enough struggles as it is," she added. "We don't need to see them have to deal with this on top of it."
Councilman Christopher M. Daubert, a high school teacher, agreed with Young, saying he's seen the effects firsthand and attended funerals because of it.
"As an educator in the schools, that absolutely happens," he said. "It has happened with some of my students whose parents have forced them to try and change who they are and who they were born as. In my mind, conversion therapy is nothing less than quackery. I don't think it has any place in the city."
The ordinance proposed by Young and Shanker would ban conversion therapy in the city and revoke the business license of a licensed mental health professional found doing it.
Claims would be investigated by a complaint administrator nominated by the mayor and confirmed by City Council. Hearings and appeals of complaints would be conducted by a voluntary board.
Any appeal of the board's decisions would be heard in Berks County Court.
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz, a member of the National Association of Social Workers, said conversion therapy is something council needs to make a statement about because it is not an approved mental health practice.
Councilman Brian Twyman, a social worker, said he's against conversion therapy as well, but he had questions about the legal ramifications if the city were to pass the proposed ordinance.
He asked the city's legal department to review it.
Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr., echoed his support of the cause, as well as Twyman's concerns of overstepping the state.
"I'm a little concerned that we're going to start carving out for the professional mental health providers what we think is wrong and right," Waltman said. "Meanwhile, the state oversight boards who regulate, license, control, monitor them have not intervened at that level."
Shanker said the reason the authorities who regulate those licenses don't do anything about conversion therapy is because they're not able to.
"Even though professional organizations for these mental health providers don't allow conversion therapy within their professional ethical guidelines, the state boards aren't allowed to consider that because it's not part of the state professional licensing laws," Shanker said.
Waltman replied it's shocking to hear about that kind of gap in the state's oversight, calling it a real failure at that level.
Daubert said that it's key to remember that nothing has been done to rectify the issue.
"I'm kind of sitting here thinking if not us, who?" he added.
Councilwoman Donna Reed agreed that if the state won't step up, then City Council should.
Waltman said council could, but it doesn't help solve the overall problem because then people will just take their business outside the city.
"At the end of the day, you need broad-based solutions that affect everyone," he said.
Mayor Wally Scott said he would like to see how the ordinance is written and acknowledged that sometimes things need to be changed from the ground up.
"I myself, if I was a council person, I would probably vote to stop conversion therapy in the City of Reading if we can do it," Scott said.
City Council is expected to continue to review the proposed ordinance and vote on it in two to four weeks.
Matt Nanci: 610-371-5095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Council considers banning conversion therapy