Editorial: Pittsburgh must protect LGBTQ children from conversion therapy


Dan Gilman speaks at a rally for Katie McGinty in September. Councilmember Gilman, along with Bruce Kraus, pitched a legislation to ban conversion therapy for minors in the city. John Hamilton | Senior Staff Photographer

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Let’s just get this out of the way: Being gay, queer, trans or any other member of the LGBTQ+ community is not a choice. There’s no way to “fix” it.

It’s disappointing that, on the precipice of 2017, people are still arguing about this. Moreover, it’s a tragic reality that some of those people will raise children who identify as members of these communities and tell them that it’s a flaw. These parents may turn to strategies known as conversion therapy, which ultimately scar their children in an attempt to alter their identities.

But on Wednesday, Pittsburgh City Council members Bruce Kraus and Dan Gilman introduced legislation banning the city’s mental health workers from placing minors in such programs. The legislation will come up for a preliminary vote Dec. 7. If passed, the legislation will be up for a final vote Dec. 13, and Mayor Bill Peduto will have 10 days to sign or veto it. Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ+ children need this protection, and it’s the city’s moral obligation to offer it.

Support for conversion therapy has come primarily from deeply religious groups, but this ban is not an attack on religion. It’s a necessary step to keep unconsenting minors from emotional, sexual and mental abuse. Five states already ban conversion therapy for minors, as do several cities, including Cincinnati and Seattle — and Pittsburgh should join them in doing so.

Programs that offer conversion therapy have no professional standards or guidelines, making them difficult to characterize broadly, but they generally involve intensive counseling sessions in which therapists coach children into believing their sexuality is rooted in trauma. These therapists argue that such trauma eventually stifles “normal” heteronormative development, leading to homosexuality. Chaim Levin, a gay man who in 2012 told the New York Times about his conversion therapy experiences, was reportedly forced to touch his genitals in front of his counselor in order to “reconnect with his masculinity.”

With a vice president-elect who, as governor of Indiana, advocated for diverting government money from HIV research to fund these programs, the danger of conversion therapy is becoming an imminent reality. Mike Pence’s spokesperson denies that Pence actually supported its funding, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this election season it’s that we can trust almost nothing the incoming administration has said about the past opinions of its leaders.

In an interview with The Pitt News, Gilman highlighted Pence’s past support for the practices as a core reason for proposing the legislation. But even without a pending Donald Trump-Pence administration, this therapy shouldn’t be necessary and is long overdue.

According to research on family acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth conducted at San Francisco State University, compared with LGBTQ+ young people who were not rejected because of their gay or transgender identity, LGBTQ+ young people whose parents were extremely unsupportive were eight times more likely to attempt suicide. These young people were also six times more likely to report high levels of depression. This is just some of the damage caused by conversion programs, which have no scientific evidence of their efficacy.

Parents who place their children in these programs are putting their own priorities before the well-being of kids unable to speak for themselves.

Pittsburgh should pass this legislation, and quickly.