Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has signed an executive order on Tuesday directing state agencies to ensure that no taxpayer money goes toward the harmful practice known as conversion therapy. The order represents a significant step toward protecting LGBTQ+ youth from the practice.
“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” Wolf said in a statement. “This discriminatory practice is widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals and has been proven to lead to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ youth subjected to it. This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them.”
Wolf’s orders do not constitute a full ban on conversion therapy, but rather ensures the state does not support the practice. Local politics blog Billy Penn pointed out that many towns and counties do, however, ban conversion therapy at the local level, meaning that whether or not the practice is legal depends on where in Pennsylvania you are located.
The order directs all state agencies to protect state residents from conversion therapy, also misleadingly called “reparative therapy,” and to make sure no state funds are used to provide or reimburse agencies for conversion therapy. Wolf also directed the state government to investigate any reports of conversion therapy being paid for by state dollars and encourages the Department of State to tell people how to report licensed professionals that cause harm to LGBTQ+ people through conversion therapy.
The move makes Pennsylvania the 26th state to either fully or partially ban conversion therapy, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Twenty states and Washington, D.C. completely ban the harmful practice. Other countries have weighed whether to ban reparative therapy, with Canada banning it nationwide in December and the U.K. failing to ban it in April. Congress introduced a bill to ban conversion therapy in 2021, but the bill went nowhere. Meanwhile, this has been a banner year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in state legislatures across the country, including Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law, as well as bills banning gender-affirming therapy in Texas and Alabama.
According to a study earlier this year from LGBTQ+ suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project, 13% of LGBTQ+ youth report being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% of those who underwent the harmful process being under the age of 18.
“Conversion therapy is causing horrific consequences for the mental health and well-being of a generation of young LGBTQIA+ individuals,” Wolf said. “But there is something very simple that we can all do to help. We can stand up and tell LGBTQIA+ youth that we hear them and we accept them exactly as they are.”
Mathew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor and co-founder of Born Perfect, an organization aimed at ending the practice nationwide, called Wolf’s action a “critical step” in protecting LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians. “LGBTQ kids and their families are targeted by so-called therapists causing lifelong harm,” Shurka said in a statement to NBC News. “This executive order demonstrates that our political offices have the power to protect our youth and it is their responsibility to do so.”