Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor on Tuesday moved to protect LGBTQ residents from conversion therapy, issuing an executive order that compels state agencies to discourage the practice and bans taxpayer funds from being used to support it.
“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.
“This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them,” he continued, adding that the practice “is causing horrific consequences for the mental health and well-being of a generation of young LGBTQIA+ individuals.”
The practice, also known as reparative or sexual orientation change efforts, has been discredited by every major professional association that deals with mental health. The assumption that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed is not based on medical or scientific evidence, according to the American Medical Association. And, as Wolf noted, the practice can lead to serious harm.
Conversion therapy is banned in at least 20 states and several cities across the country, but several bills have been introduced to preserve the practice or even to repeal the bans. Though the governor’s order does not ban the practice outright in Pennsylvania, it does provide some key protections that advocates say are critical.
Among other things, the order directs relevant state agencies “to explore and implement all options to ensure state funds, programs, contracts, and other resources are not used for the purposes of providing, authorizing, endorsing, reimbursing for, or referring for conversion therapy, to the extent permitted by law.”
Additionally, it directs the state “to commit to discourage commercial insurers from providing reimbursement for conversion therapy, to the extent permitted by law.” As part of that, the state “is also directed to receive and investigate any reports of commercial insurance claims that have been paid for conversion therapy.”
Wolf’s order asks Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services “to develop resource guides that outline science and evidence-based best practices on family preservation and available community and local LGBTQIA+ affirming entities and services for families to support an LGBTQIA+ child or youth, as well as resources for caring for LGBTQIA+ children and youth within the child welfare system, including caring for their physical and mental health and well-being.”
The Trevor Project, a nonprofit suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization that supports LGBTQ youth, applauded the governor’s order, saying he set a necessary example for governors around the country.
“Thank you Gov. Wolf for your leadership and for taking bold action to protect and affirm LGBTQ young people across the Commonwealth,” said Troy Stevenson, the group’s senior campaign manager for advocacy and government affairs, in a statement. “We urge the state legislature to pass comprehensive state-wide protections and for governors across the nation to follow the Keystone State’s lead in ending this abusive practice.”
A study published earlier this year that was funded by the Trevor Project found that conversion therapy causes serious emotional harm to LGBTQ people and can even be deadly, but it also comes with a high financial cost to individuals and to society as a whole.
The study, published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that people who underwent conversion therapy had serious psychological distress, had significantly higher rates of depression and substance use problems, and attempted suicide more.
CNN’s Jen Christensen contributed to this report.