Central PA's LGBT News Source

Council discusses prohibiting the practice

Will Harrisburg nix conversion therapy?


“…a good step forward” is how Harrisburg Human Relations Commission chair Russ Boggs describes efforts by Harrisburg City Council to take a stand on ‘conversion therapy’.

The Central Voice reported in October that Harrisburg City Council member Ben Allatt was leading an effort to have Pennsylvania’s capitol city take a position on the therapy which is discredited by the American Psychiatric Association and a long list of professional mental health organizations. Allatt has initiated a discussion in city council that could lead to a ban or a resolution of the practice, depending on the legal ins and outs of laws governing Harrisburg’s Third Class City status.

HHRC chair Boggs tells CV: “Conversion therapy, reparative therapy, otherwise known as ‘pray the gay away’ is a spectrum of practices that aim to change, alter, modify, or eradicate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or behaviors.  The Harrisburg Human Relations Commission’s (HHRC) nine commissioners and staff liaison support City Council Vice President Ben Allatt in this action (via a resolution) to make this inclusive policy statement. This is a good first step toward prohibiting this so-called therapy. The next step being an ordinance, which includes penalties, for violations.”

“This practice is not based on science. It hurts people. As other communities have acted, I want Harrisburg to discuss conversion therapy too,” Allatt says. “Conversion therapy focuses on the repression of your feelings,” Allatt told CV. He knows because when in his 20s Allatt enrolled in a form of the controversial therapy. “Outside the LGBT community, not many people really understand what individuals experience under the hurtful rigors of conversion therapy,” Allatt says.

There are no known or expected costs to the city of banning or resolving that city council doesn’t condone the therapy.

Allatt expects the process to move quickly with final passage of a measure by year’s end. As of July 3, 2018, there were eight Pennsylvania municipalities that have acted on the controversial form of intervention: Reading, Allentown, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Doylestown, State College and Yardley Borough.

Meanwhile, CV talked with Wayne Besen, veteran activist on the issue of conversion and reparative therapies. Located in Washington, DC, he’s back in the game after a sabbatical.

“The conversion therapy crowd is considerably weakened than when we all began this effort about 30 years ago,” Besen said. In the last three decades proponents of the discredited intervention have seen their leaders run off with boyfriends. Individuals exposed to the therapy have come forward to say it just didn’t work for them. “The Right and Evangelical leaders have had the experience of a child coming out to them, challenging their belief in the approach,” Besen said.

Although on the wane, Besen says “there’ll always be a demand from religious-based households and congregations that will continue to define gay as something that needs to be changed, even with overwhelming evidence it just doesn’t work.” Besen thinks of conversion therapy advocates as the original believers in ‘fake science.”