By Angela D. Giampolo
When I wrote an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal last year on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) annual Municipality Equality Index (MEI), I had no idea it would become the first in a series. And yet, here we are after this year’s publication on Nov. 19 celebrating that Philadelphia has once again come out on top with higher than perfect score, 113, and New Hope has almost doubled its score and tallied 89 points. But what does this all mean?
By Angela D. Giampolo
A person’s name says a lot about who they are. We can sometimes discern legacy, ancestry, and even religion from a person’s name. Most of us are lucky enough to feel comfortable with our given names – it’s a connection to the identity we grew up with. Not everyone is so lucky.
For transgender individuals who want to complete their transition or same-sex couples married in a state which doesn’t recognize their marriage, like Pennsylvania, a legal name change is necessary to receive updated legal documentation such as a driver’s license, passport, marriage certificate, or deed to real property.
By Angela D. Giampolo
On Nov. 7, more than 60 Senators — the number required to avoid filibuster — voted to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), breathing life into a bill that has equality advocates ecstatic about what positive implications it will have for the LGBT community. The bill’s final Senate vote tally was 64-32. Despite the fact that Democrats maintain a majority in the Senate, a total of 10 Republican Senators voted for ENDA’s passage in a show of bipartisan support, including Pennsylvania’s own Pat Toomey.
ENDA would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and is modeled closely after the non-discrimination portions of Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Laws banning harassment based on race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, and disability, would be amended to include sexual orientation if the bill becomes law.
Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Anthony D. Romero, issued a statement on Nov. 7 following ENDA’s passage. “As this bill continues to move forward, it is critically important to ensure that it, like other landmark civil rights laws, protects as many people as possible from indefensible workplace discrimination.”
Romero’s concern about protecting as many people as possible is not without merit. ENDA has come under fire by some of its biggest initial supporters thanks to religious and small business exemptions that have the potential to perpetuate LGBT discrimination.
Houses of worship and other religious institutions and affiliates, as well as employers with 15 employees or less, will have looser restrictions and be allowed to continue considering LGBT status in employment decisions. ENDA advocates in the Senate maintain that the bill’s initial passage will pave the way for amending these discriminatory loopholes in the future.
The biggest hurdle facing ENDA currently is passage in the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House John Boehner has publicly voiced his opposition to this bill citing “frivolous litigation” and “job loss” as negative consequences of such legislation.
For LGBT employees in Pennsylvania and other states without protective laws, job loss is the status quo for targets of discrimination, and litigation often is the only mechanism for ensuring justice or compensation to the injured party. Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Boehner’s home state, was one of the Republican votes for ENDA in the Senate.
Only 21 states ban sexual orientation discrimination by statute, or state law. LGBT individuals in the other 29 states, including Pennsylvania, run the risk of facing an adverse employment decision by simply being themselves in the workplace. It has been proven time and again that “happy” workers in safe environments have higher productivity than those persecuted for their LGBT identity. It increases overall productivity and allows LGBT individuals to participate in a meritocracy alongside everyone else, focusing on their performance in the workplace and nothing more.
Given that, it is unclear how GOP leaders in the House have decided that ENDA is bad for businesses.
The Republican Party, traditionally the party associated with capitalism and a business-friendly government, does not seem to acknowledge that close to 90 percent of the Fortune 500 support passage of ENDA. In addition to Big Business, the majority of Americans across party lines also support ENDA. According to the Washington Post, 73 percent of Americans support workplace protection for LGBT individuals; 81 percent of young adults; 60 percent of Republicans; and 80 percent of Democrats.
The unfortunate truth is, with discriminatory loopholes and gender identity on the chopping block as the bill moves forward to the Republican-dominated House, we could see a version of ENDA passed that is more akin to SPLENDA; an artificial version of the bill meant to satisfy the sweet tooth of supporters but lacking real substance.
This is one of those times where I hope I’m wrong and that a robust ENDA is passed. The time is ripe for change and the American public knows it.
State Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, announced his intention to introduce legislation this term that would effectively ban all gay-reparative or conversion therapies in the state of Pennsylvania. Collectively, such therapies are known as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). The Protection of Minors From Sexual Orientation Change Counseling Act, or SB 872, sponsored by Sims and Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Luzerne, states, “A mental health professional shall not engage in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual under 18 years of age.” If passed, this legislation could end the litany of medical, psychological and spiritual mistreatments that have done irreparable damage to generations of LGBT youth in Pennsylvania.
SOCEs have come into the national spotlight recently, as a plethora of scientific evidence proves what LGBT advocates have been saying for years—that being gay is not a choice. Subjecting minors already dealing with the often difficult process of coming out to SOCEs causes or strengthens extreme negative feelings and numerous other emotional collateral damages. The bill cites the conclusions of a 2009 task force analyzing SOCEs that concluded they cause critical health risks to LGBT individuals, including shame, confusion, depression, self-hatred, guilt and hopelessness. This can lead to social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, hostility and blame toward parents, loss of faith, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, high-risk sexual behaviors, and feelings of being dehumanized.
In addition to the severe emotional toll faced by these minors, lack of oversight or regulation of these extreme methods is disturbing. New Jersey State Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen, sponsor of New Jersey’s similar bill, A-3371, referred to SOCEs as an “insidious form of child abuse.” Electroshock, compulsory masturbation using straight pornography, social shaming, physical abuse and attempts to associate negative entities with gay responses are just some of the SOCEs that minors have had to endure.
To date, there is no conclusive evidence to even suggest that such therapies have a beneficial outcome. The American Medical Association, American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics have unanimously condemned SOCEs as unethical, harmful and without basis in scientific or medical evidence. The bill goes on to cite a World Health Organization regional office’s statement that concluded that SOCEs violate the ethical principles of health care and basic human rights. If successfully enacted, SB 872 would make Pennsylvania the third state in the country to ban SOCEs, joining California and New Jersey; Gov. Jerry Brown signed California SB 1172 on Sept. 30, 2012, into law and Gov. Chris Christie signed New Jersey A-3371 into law Aug. 19. Ohio, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., are considering similar bans on SOCEs.
Christie, a Republican, surprised supporters of the bill when he signed it at the last possible moment, putting A-3371 into effect. Resistance to the passing of A-3371 was spurred by Christie’s administration. Lawyers for the Liberty Counsel sent Christie a letter before he signed A-3371, threatening to sue if he chose to support the ban on SOCEs, saying that it violated myriad constitutional liberties and was based on inconclusive findings about the effects of SOCE on minors.
The Liberty Counsel, a Christian conservative organization, made its initial challenge against SOCE bans by attacking SB 1172 in California; the group invoked freedom of speech and parental choice arguments in its effort to strike these laws down. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion to temporarily enjoin SB 1172 on the assumption that strict scrutiny would be applied—as it is in First Amendment free-speech cases—and that the law would subsequently fail to meet this standard.
However, on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that only rational basis was necessary for review of SB 1172, and that SB 1172 is rationally related to the legitimate government interest of protecting the wellbeing of minors. Free speech might deserve heightened scrutiny, the court reasoned, but the conduct of mental health professionals was considered well within the regulatory authority of the state; it was irrelevant that psychotherapists happen to conduct their therapy through speech. As to parental rights, the court reasoned, parents still have the right to speak to their children and advise them on religious, moral and fundamentalist approaches in the parental capacity. Subjecting their progeny to SOCE treatment, however, would fall within the protective police power of the state.
Symbolically, SB 872 stands to initiate a statewide dialogue on the rights of LGBT individuals, as the bill opens with the following language: “Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.” Such language is monumental in a state like Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania obstinately refuses to recognize same-sex marriage and is the last state in the region to do so. New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland and longtime holdout New Jersey (starting Oct. 21 by court order) have legalized either same-sex marriage or civil unions, since Massachusetts first legalized it in 2003.
Even without marriage equality, LGBT individuals are not even guaranteed equal protection of the law in Pennsylvania. No state law exists in Pennsylvania to stop an employer from firing, harassing or shaming employees for their sexual orientation. No law exists to keep a landlord from evicting someone for his or her sexual orientation. No law exists to keep organizations from discriminating based on sexual orientation (e.g., the American Red Cross refuses to accept blood donations from gay men as a policy). And no law exists to punish hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender. This is the message that current Pennsylvania law sends to LGBT minors: You are on your own.
When SB 872 passes, Pennsylvania will change that message and will finally provide crucial legal protection to young adults from the detrimental effects of SOCE. Sims summed up this issue perfectly: “It’s time to protect Pennsylvania children from this quackery that can inflict years of harm for those who manage to survive it.” SB 872 provides that “Pennsylvania has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological wellbeing of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts” and that the ban on SOCE is directly related to the regulation of mental health professionals. In conclusion, I am optimistic that the anticipated challenges to SB 872 law will fail in light of the decisions elsewhere in the country using a rational basis level of scrutiny and Pennsylvania will emerge with one of hopefully many laws to come that serve to protect the LGBT community.
On the eve of America’s 2013 state and local elections, the Senate is looking to capitalize on growing support for LGBT equality by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Over 60 Senators, the number required to avoid filibuster, voted to pass ENDA, breathing life into a bill that has major positive implications for LGBT Americans. As the name might suggest, ENDA bans workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and is modeled closely after the non-discrimination portions of Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If ENDA successfully passes through the House too, this passage would mark the largest federal legislative victory for LGBT advocates since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2010. The repeal of DADT invalidated the policy presented during President Clinton’s term that openly gay and lesbian individuals could not serve in the military.
While ENDA’s passage would bring unprecedented federal endorsement of equality and protections to LGBT citizens, there are two significant issues presented by the bill. First, unlike employment non-discrimination legislation based on race, gender, ethnicity, or age ENDA has a broad exemption for small businesses with less than 15 employees and for religious employers. Under this exemption, Churches and other houses of worships are allowed to consider sexual orientation as a basis for employment decisions. Religiously affiliated organizations, like charities or hospitals, are also eligible for this exemption. Proponents of the religious exemption frame the debate in terms of preservation of free speech and freedom of religion for these employers. American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist, Ian Thompson said of the exemption, “We think this is a very dangerous road to go down.” Considering a decision by the D.C. District Court on November 1, 2013 upholding a challenge to mandatory birth control coverage by religious employers, such apprehension is not without reason.
Second, ENDA will have a very rough road ahead of it if it is to pass through the House. Bi-partisan support in the Senate has been a welcome relief in the weeks following the government shutdown. However, the republican controlled House of Representatives, the very culprits responsible for said shutdown, is filled with a majority not in support of ENDA. Speaker of the House, John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said of ENDA, “The speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.” This “frivolous litigation” is the only legal recourse some LGBT individuals have left as a mechanism for fighting capricious employment discrimination in states without equal rights laws.
Pennsylvania is one of those states, where LGBT individuals are not protected equally under state law from employment discrimination. Gov. Corbett (R) and the State Legislature have prevented employment non-discrimination law from passing, making Pennsylvania a state with some of the lowest standards in terms of protection for its LGBT citizens. Twenty one states ban sexual orientation discrimination by statute, or state law: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
For LGBT citizens of the other twenty nine states, ENDA would expand the protection of federal law to these much needed areas.
President Obama wrote of this state-to-state discrepancy: “Right now, in 2013, in many states a person can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It’s offensive. It’s wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fire-able offense.”
Amen, Mr. President.
By Angela D. Giampolo, original article appears in Philadelphia Gay News
YouTube videos of a Philadelphia gay man being forcefully subdued by Philadelphia Police started popping up shortly after the incident occurred at Philadelphia’s annual OutFest Oct. 13. The videos depict Anthony Reto, 23, being put in a headlock by police and held to the ground with a knee in his back. Reto can be heard shouting, “Help me! Help me!” to his boyfriend, Thomas Berner, and bystanders.
According to witnesses and police, Reto and Berner were walking through OutFest, around 12th and Locust streets, when the couple spotted protesters from a conservative religious group. Repent America had signs and were projecting antigay messages. The couple and two friends took a photo in front of the protestors, when police claim that they knocked down one of Repent America’s signs and pushed an officer from behind. Police tackled and held Reto to the ground for approximately two minutes before releasing him.
The couple faces charges of disorderly conduct and criminal conspiracy and are scheduled for a trial later this month. Reto and Berner’s experience is not an isolated incident. Somehow, Pride events have become targets for violent and hateful acts. Year after year, communities celebrating positivity and diversity face arbitrary and capricious enforcement of the law as well as attacks from malicious individuals.
Earlier this year, two men harassed a group of LGBTs on a subway car following New York City’s Pride. In 2010, a gay man was beaten and robbed following a Pride event in Albany, N.Y. In 2012, a lesbian couple was attacked and pushed to the ground at a Pride event in Atlanta. Also last year, police used pepper spray and arrested six LGBTs at a Pride event in Seattle.
When people target members of a specific demographic with such violence and brutality, it’s difficult to understand how the law fails to recognize this behavior as a hate crime. By FBI estimates, 12.8 percent of bias or hate crimes occur based on ethnicity, as opposed to 19.8 percent based on sexual orientation. However, in Pennsylvania and 19 other states, hate-crime statutes do not include protections for crimes biased by sexual orientation or gender identity. Proponents of protection for LGBT individuals under the hate-crime law face two major challenges.
The first is that law-enforcement officers can be the perpetrators of hate crimes against the very LGBT individuals seeking protection from the law. When an officer commits a crime, it can be a long, arduous process to justice, as the Fraternal Order of Police has a longstanding history of taking care of its own. This year, police used excessive force against an 18-year-old gay teen, strangling him at a Pride event in Sydney, Australia. In Barcelona, police beat and kicked a man at a World Pride event so brutally that he later died. In June 2013 police beat, handcuffed and then pepper-sprayed three openly gay men in Brooklyn. The attack was videotaped and is being used as evidence of the violent actions of these NYPD officers.
The second challenge is that Pennsylvania is a state that repeatedly denies equal protection of the laws to its LGBT citizens. For example, Pennsylvania state law does not protect LGBT individuals against employment discrimination, housing discrimination or hate crimes. A hate-crimes bill enacted in 2002 that added sexual orientation and gender identity as bases for a hate crime was later struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Bills to reinstate LGBT protections have repeatedly been introduced but failed to move in the state legislature. Antigay protestors continue to receive permits for LGBT Pride events, while elected officials issue partisan statements condemning same-sex marriage and religious schools with explicitly antigay codes of conduct receive public funds.
It has become blatantly obvious that a refusal to approve and enact laws to protect the LGBT community not only contributes to, but condones, bigotry. In short, discrimination and hatred are tacitly approved since a blind eye has been turned on the well-being and safety of our brothers and sisters in the community. Community outreach and political action are crucial to educate folks to the damage being done. If LGBT individuals cannot even feel safe and protected during a Pride event — one of the few days in the year where LGBT people can truly be themselves and celebrate being members of the incredible Philadelphia LGBT community — how are they supposed to do so the other 364 days of the year? Swift change must be brought about to end the cycle of violence and hatred that has overshadowed what these events stand for, and what lives on within all of us long after they end: Pride.
Sweeping legislation went into effect in Philadelphia on Thursday, October 24, 2013 as Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law a bill that has major positive implications for the city’s LGBT community. The bill mandates that new or newly renovated government buildings provide gender neutral bathrooms, in addition to existing female only and male only ones.
This bathroom initiative provides a welcome option for LGBT individuals, who by sex, gender expression, or orientation, might feel uncomfortable using female or male only bathrooms. “It can be an awkward and embarrassing situation” for anyone who may “feel more like a woman, but can’t use the women’s room,” said Councilman Jim Kenney, the bill’s sponsor. Transgender individuals in particular, will be able to avoid stigmatization attached to either female or male only bathrooms, by having a gender neutral option.
The bill’s tax credit program is the other major innovation to potentially benefit LGBT individuals and their families. Philadelphia will be the first city in America to offer a system of tax credits to businesses, which extend insurance and health benefits to their LGBT employees and their families. At a time when the Affordable Care Act is poised to require better and more affordable insurance plans, millions of Americans on their company’s insurance plans stand to gain great benefits like preventative care, free prescription coverage, and free immunizations. Businesses which choose to participate in the tax credit program would receive financial benefit for extending this improved health care to all their employees, regardless of sexual orientation.
The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and numerous LGBT organizations have backed this tax credit legislation as a financial incentive for progressive and equal opportunity businesses. The bill also amends official city forms to have same-sex and transgender options, extends decision making on medical issues to same sex couples, and amends Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination law to include transgender people.
Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay state representative in Pennsylvania, said of the bill “this is a city that is truly respecting all its citizens. It is because of that respect that we are indeed a first-class city and we will continue to shine.” Rep. Sims has been in the spotlight recently for sponsoring legislation proposing a statewide ban on conversion therapy; Sims’ bill would protect minors eighteen and younger from being exposed to traumatizing and painful Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, which have been condemned by the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major medical organizations.
Mayor Nutter commented on the bill’s passage, stating that he hopes Philadelphia will become “the most LGBT friendly” city in the world. For LGBT citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, such support is crucial and significant at a time when state politicians are pulling out all the stops to halt legislation for equality.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that does not currently allow same-sex marriage or civil unions. City and county ordinances offer some protections for LGBT citizens from discrimination. Philadelphia is taking a progressive step to ensure equal protection of the laws for its inhabitants. However, Pennsylvania continues to be one of the worst states for LGBT individuals in terms of equal protection and civil rights. Gov. Corbett (R) and the state legislature have worked to prevent marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination legislation, despite neighbors New Jersey and Maryland’s legalization of same-sex marriage earlier this year. No state law exists to prevent employment or housing discrimination for LGBT individuals, and sexual orientation is not considered under state hate crime statutes.
With the incredible example set by Mayor Nutter and Rep. Sims, one can only hope that Pennsylvania lawmakers will follow suit, and we will see more progressive legislation soon!
Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey made history this morning, October 21, 2013, becoming the first same sex couple in the state of New Jersey to be legally married. Asaro and Schailey were married shortly after midnight on a day that Garden State Equality executive director, Troy Stevenson called “the day that New Jerseyans have been waiting for for decades.” Asaro and Schailey were also the first same sex couple to be joined in a civil union in New Jersey back in 2007.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed newly passed same-sex marriage legislation in February of 2012, ostensibly setting progress back in the Garden state. However, three weeks ago Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled in favor of same-sex plaintiffs challenging New Jersey’s civil union law. Judge Jacobson cited to the DOMA case, Windsor v. United States, ruling that New Jersey’s civil union law interfered with federal benefits that are guaranteed for same-sex couples. The superior court decision held that same-sex marriages could start on October 21, 2013. Hours after the first marriage licenses were issued, Gov. Christie announced that he would not challenge the court’s decision.
So what does this mean for same-sex couples in New Jersey?
For same-sex couples looking to get married, there is a mandatory 72 hour waiting period after submitting an application for a marriage license. The couple should complete the application and sign it under oath before a Registrar and a witness. The waiting period can be waived by the Superior Court if the couple presents satisfactory proof that an emergency exists.
For same-sex couples married out-of-state, the New Jersey state government SHOULD be recognizing the marriage as heterosexual couples married out-of-state have been given recognition in New Jersey, but no final answer has been given by the NJ courts. Same-sex couples can apply for remarriage or reaffirmation of their out-of-state marriage in New Jersey.
While the landmark decision impacts marriages, it does not affect existing civil unions from New Jersey. For same-sex couples with civil unions in New Jersey, the court’s decision does not automatically convert civil unions into legal marriage. The couple can choose to get married and dissolve the civil union or get married and keep the civil union intact. In the event that the couple separates, the couple would have to obtain both a divorce and dissolution of their civil union. If you are a PA resident with a NJ civil union, it is unaffected and still cannot be dissolved. Couples concerned about any of the legal issues involved can consult an attorney at the Giampolo Law Group and PhillyGayLawyer.com: http://giampololaw.com/
New Jersey is the 14th state to legalize same-sex marriage, joining California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, leaving neighbor state Pennsylvania as the only state in the Northeast without marriage equality or civil unions.
By Angela D. Giampolo, original article appears in Philadelphia Gay News
Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that employs a range of pseudo-scientific treatments (and that’s putting it nicely!) aiming to “convert” people from queer to straight. Conversion therapy has been a source of intense controversy in the United States and around the world, and is highly criticized by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression and, in some cases, suicidal ideation. These devastating consequences are why LGBT advocates around the country, including our very own state Rep. Brian Sims and Sen. Anthony H. Williams, here in Pennsylvania, are dedicated to ending conversion therapy and defending the rights of individuals harmed by it.
Last month, Williams and Sims announced a plan to introduce a complementary, bipartisan bill in the state House to ban conversion therapy for minors. Williams introduce a companion measure in the Senate earlier this year. This most recent bill came about in January through Sims’ collaboration with Ed Coffin of the Peace Advocacy Network and Monique Walker, a counselor at The Attic Youth Center.
“It was something that we had been talking about for quite a long time, given the lack of LGBT civil rights in Pennsylvania,” Sims said at a press conference announcing the legislation. Sims and Williams said they expect their respective bills to be addressed in next year’s legislative session.
Once the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, conversion therapy lost support. Most critical readings of the scientific literature suggest that gay conversion therapy — and other attempts to reorient same-sex love and attraction — simply do not work. Instead, they can cause serious harm. Not only do these treatments prove unsuccessful, but there are also no professional standards or guidelines for how they are conducted. Early treatments in the 1960s and ’70s included aversion therapy, such as shocking patients or giving them nausea-inducing drugs while showing them same-sex erotica, according to a 2004 article in the British Medical Journal. Today, methods include psychoanalysis, estrogen treatments to reduce libido in men and even electroconvulsive therapy, in which an electric shock is used to induce a seizure, with possible side effects such as memory loss, suicidal thoughts and depression.
If successful, Pennsylvania will be the third state to ban conversion therapy, after California and New Jersey.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1172 into law last year, making the state the first in the nation to pass legislation banning conversion therapy for minors. Like the Pennsylvania bill, the California legislation bans mental-health providers from engaging in conversion-therapy practices and states that providers who do not abide by the ban will be subject to disciplinary action. This bill, like Pennsylvania’s, does not target religious counselors or groups practicing conversion therapy, in an attempt to steer clear of religious pushback for First Amendment rights. In December, Liberty Counsel, on behalf of litigious members of the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuals, among other plaintiffs, was granted an injunction by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the court in August went on to uphold the new law. The case could proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In New Jersey, four former clients of a counseling group sued for deceptive practices, arguing that they paid thousands for therapies that did not rid them of same-sex attractions. Supporters of conversion therapy have framed the debate as a parental-rights issue, however even Republican Gov. Christie said the health risks of the practice outweigh such concerns. Massachusetts and New York are also considering similar legislation.
However, just because Pennsylvania’s bill shadows the already-successful California legislation doesn’t mean this is going to be easy for us. Unlike in California and New Jersey, Pennsylvania has both a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled state legislature, which could greatly affect the bill’s chances for passage.
The bill would seek to prohibit licensed therapists from trying to change a child’s sexual orientation by attempting to alter their behaviors, gender expression or sexual attraction to the same sex. The main issue to address, as with all legislation that seeks to stop a particular behavior/practice, is enforcement. What recourse will there be against licensed physiotherapists and counselors who continue to engage in conversion therapy and how will this be monitored by the state? Will the recourse be disciplinary sanctions through the professional licensing board or criminal penalties? Unfortunately, the bill still lacks the necessary language to outline the consequences of continuing these practices.
The uncivilized discriminatory practice of conversion therapy is not helping anyone and is counterintuitive to decades of science and medical research. It is alarming that things like this still happen in a country that prides itself on its diversity. State by state, we need to push for legislation like this. Conversion therapy is antiquated and offensive and does not represent contemporary American values.