Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order banning conversion therapy in the state. Tuesday Photo courtesy of Office of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf/Website
Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Tuesday effectively banning so-called conversion therapy in the state in an effort to protect its LGBTQ residents from the controversial practice that attempts to forcibly change one's sexual orientation.
The Democratic governor signed the executive order during a press conference that directs government agencies to discourage conversion therapy and to take steps to promote evidence-based best practices for LGBTQ people.
It also directs for government policies and procedures to be updated to support LGBTQ employees and for the departments of human services, insurance, state and others to ensure state funds, programs, contracts and other resources are not used in any way to support conversion therapy.
"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."
With the signing of the executive order, Pennsylvania becomes the 21st state to ban conversion therapy, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank.
LGBTQ advocates have long pushed for conversion therapy to be banned as medical professionals see it as harmful to the LGBT community.
The American Medical Association has said it opposes the practice as it assumes that homosexuality or gender nonconformity are mental disorders and practitioners often employ "unethical" techniques including electric shock deprivation of food and liquid, chemically induced nausea and masturbation reconditioning to change one's sexual orientation.
"These practices may increase suicidal behaviors and cause significant psychological distress, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, internalized homophobia, self-blame, intrusive imagery and sexual dysfunction," the AMA said.
According to The Trevor Project, which seeks to end suicide among LGBTQ people, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, 75% experienced symptoms of anxiety, 58% reported symptoms of depression and 36% reported having been physically threatened or harmed due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Despite these concerns, 13% of LGBTQ youth nationwide reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% stating it occurred when they were minors, according to a national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health conducted last year by The Trevor Project.
The executive order was signed as Republican-led states have pushed legislation that restricts the rights of LGBTQ persons.
The American Civil Liberties Union has listed dozens of what it describes as anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced into state legislatures this year alone, many of which target youth.
During the Tuesday press conference, Wolf said these efforts by "right-wing extremists" who use their power to "bully" LGBTQ youth are the impetus behind the executive order.
"This is despicable and it's causing immense harm to our communities," he said. "The anti-LGBTQ legislation, the phony moral outrage on the part of right-wing politicians has fed a very real and a very dangerous wave of discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community."
Citing stats from the Armed Conflict and Event Data Project, Wolf said anti-LGBTQ mobilization, including demonstrations, violence and propaganda, increased by more than 400% last year compared to the year before with this year on track to be even worse.
"We have a crisis here, and it's unacceptable -- it is unacceptable for all of us. Political attacks on LGBTQ communities are not happening in a vacuum. They're happening in our towns and they are happening in our schools," he said.
"But there's something very simple that we each can do to help -- We can stand up," he said. "We can stand up and tell LGBTQ youth that we hear them, we accept them exactly as they are. They matter, they belong and we're going to protect them and we're going to look out for them."
The Trevor Project, which provided the state with data that aided in fashioning the bill, said it applauds Wolf for signing the executive order while calling on other states to follow his lead.
"Taxpayers' dollars must never again be spent on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion 'therapy' -- which has been consistently associated with increased suicide risk and an estimated $9.23 billion economic burden in the U.S.," Troy Stevenson, senior campaign manager for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said 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."