The effort to ban a controversial therapy that purports to make gay people straight is gaining momentum in Pennsylvania, say opponents of the practice.
Last April state Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D) introduced a bill that would ban the practice, sometimes known as "conversion therapy," in the case of minors. On Tuesday, Williams was joined by state Rep. Brian Sims (D), the state's first openly gay lawmaker, to announce a plan to introduce a complementary, bipartisan bill in the state House.
"It was something that we had been talking about for quite a long time, given the lack of LGBT civil rights in Pennsylvania," Sims told The Huffington Post.
However, both men said they had thought it prudent to wait to see how the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would rule on a similar ban that had been passed in California, the first such law in the U.S.
Soon after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed that state's bill into law last year, the ban was challenged in two separate lawsuits that argued it represented an unconstitutional violation of free speech and parental rights. In August the federal appeals court upheld the ban, and the Pennsylvania lawmakers decided it was time to press their case.
"When California had its ban held up by the 9th Circuit, we stopped pursuing the legislation and began pursuing the substance behind it, talking with experts, making sure to cross the t's and dot the i's," Sims said.
The entire mainstream medical community, from the American Psychiatric Association to the American Psychiatric Association, has disavowed conversion therapy, and Sims and Williams have consulted with a variety of mental health experts in the state who support their legislation.
Monique Walker, a counseling services coordinator at the Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia, which specializes in supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, said she often encounters minors who have been traumatized by the treatment. "It comes up a lot in the clinical work I do, where they have either been sent by their parents to ex-gay camps, or parents have recommended that they go see a therapist," Walked told HuffPost. "So what I see is the destructive effects that this has on people's families and their self-esteem."
Williams said he sees the fight to ban the therapy as an extension of his work on behalf of African Americans' civil rights. "It's an opportunity for us to carry the legacy of civil rights in this country to a sometimes overlooked community," he said.
"I don't think any of us working in civil rights ever do anything on a legislative front that we don't expect to be challenged," Sims added. "In many ways, putting something forth that withstands a legal challenge is more important than a law that is never challenged at all."
Unlike in California and New Jersey -- the two states that currently ban the practice -- Pennsylvania has both a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled state legislature, which could affect the bill's chances for passage.
"I'm expecting there to be a larger conversation from religious opponents, but that's fine," Sims said. "If my colleagues need to really flesh out their concerns about religious issues, we're going to be happy to do it."
Conversion therapy is also practiced differently in Pennsylvania than it is in the other two states. California and New Jersey are home to the two largest conversion therapy centers in the U.S. In Pennsylvania, Sims said, "we haven't seen similar, one-stop giant treatment facilities that are, en masse, doing reparative therapy. Here it's almost like your town dentist, and that -- no question -- complicates things."
Massachusetts and New York are also considering similar legislation. Sims and Williams said they expect their bill to be addressed in next year's legislative session.
For more on the history of the fight over the therapy, read The Huffington Post's profile of a former therapist who has renounced the work, and one of his patients who spent $35,000 attempting to become straight.
Also on HuffPost:
Bachmann's Alleged Involvement
In July,gay advocacy group Truth Wins Out released video footage allegedly shot undercover at the Christian-affiliated Minnesota clinic owned by Michele Bachmann and her husband, and claimed to find evidence of conversion therapy being performed on the premises. "Michele Bachmann wants to be in the Oval Office and wants to be the president of the United States," Wayne Besen, "It's important to know what her true beliefs are and what goes on in this clinic."
'Gay Barbarian Horde' Invades Bachmann's Clinic
Last July activists dressed as "gay barbarians" traveled to Bachmann's clinic to protest its alleged "pray the gay away" practices. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/21/michele-bachmanns-glitter-prank_n_906165.html" target="_hplink">A press release issued by the group reads:</a> <blockquote>Today a horde of gay barbarians descended upon Michele and Marcus Bachmann's "pray away the gay" clinic and demanded that Marcus come out and discipline them for their "deviant" behavior. Marcus Bachmann, who conducts "reparative therapy" at the clinic intended to convert homosexuals, has said that gays are "barbarians who need to be disciplined." The horde requested to speak directly with Bachmann and experience some "discipline" for themselves. When Marcus was no where to be found, the barbarians glittered the empty waiting room and reception area while chanting, "You can't pray away the gay -- baby, I was born this way!" The action was organized by the same young man who threw glitter on Newt Gingrich, starting a national trend in political protest of anti-LGBT sentiments from political candidates and campaigns. "Michele and Marcus Bachmann think gay people are barbarians?" asked LGBT activist Nick Espinosa. "I think its clear to everyone who the real barbarians are, based on the Bachmanns' archaic views on LGBT equality."</blockquote>
Gay Conversion Therapy Victim Comes Forward
Earlier this month, "I'm From Driftwood" featured a video interview with Samuel Brinton, who was raised in rural Iowa and subjected to forced Christian conversion therapy. "We then went into the 'Month of Hell,'" Brinton explained. "The 'Month of Hell' consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I'd be electrocuted."
Prominent 'Ex-Gay' Doctor Retracts Claims Made In Key Gay Conversion Therapy Study
This week the psychiatrist who published a controversial 2001 study proclaiming that "highly motivated" gay and lesbian people could change their sexual orientation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/robert-spitzer-ex-gay-psychiatrist-retraction_n_1417679.html?ref=gay-voices" target="_hplink">retracted his initial claims.</a> Psychiatrist Bob Spitzer, who had ironically led the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973, told American Prospect that he now wants to retract his study, while addressing several of the ample criticisms against its findings. "In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct," said the 80-year-old Spitzer, who is now retired and suffering from Parkinson's disease. "The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more."
John Smid Discusses 'Praying The Gay Away' With Chris Matthews
The former director of the ex-gay Christian ministry Love in Action <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/20/john-smid-former-ex-gay-minister-sexual-orientation-_n_1022417.html#s423190&title=Gay_Conversion_Therapy" target="_hplink">came forward last October</a> to say that not only that he is gay, but that he believes it is impossible to change one's sexual orientation. Though Smid admitted he did "experience homosexuality" on the show, he arguably stopped short of embracing his sexual orientation. "I would say predominately, I am attracted to men," he said. "At the same time, I've chosen to be married [to a woman] and a lot of people make that choice."
Not Born This Way?
Richard Cohen, director of the International Healing Foundation and author of "Coming Out Straight" and "Gay Children, Straight Parents," believes that people can change. "There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest either a genetic or biologic basis for homosexual desires in men or women," he said. "So people are not born this way...it's always a confounding of many different factors that lead people to experience these desires...people don't choose this, the choice is: do they want to lead that life, or do they want to change?"
Gay To Straight With Prayer?
In an appearance on "Dr. Drew" earlier this year, psychologist Joseph Nicolosi -- a founding member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) -- said he continues to support conversion therapy: "People can change, people have a choice, people should be given a choice," he said. "If a person chooses to exercise his heterosexual potential...we provide that therapy...it doesn't work for all people, but it works for some."
Pat Robertson Advises Father To Seek Conversion Therapy For His Gay Son