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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signs executive order to protect LGBTQIA+ community from conversion therapy

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed Executive Order 2022-2 on Tuesday, which aims to protect the LGBTQIA+ community in the state from the harmful practices of conversion therapy

Wolf tweeted Tuesday that the bill directs commonwealth agencies to "1) Do everything in their power to discourage conversion therapy 2) Actively promote evidence-based medical treatment for LGBTQIA+ individuals 3) Update policies and procedures to better support LGBTQIA+ Pennsylvanians." 

"Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat," Wolf added in a press release. "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."

To demonstrate how harmful conversion therapy can be, the governor's office cited a 2022 survey from The Trevor Project — a nonprofit that focuses on suicide prevention efforts in the LGBTQIA+ community — which showed that 45% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. The survey also showed that people who had experienced victimization, including undergoing conversion therapy, were more than twice as likely to report attempting suicide. 

Furthermore, the costs of conversion therapy are astronomical, the Trevor Project survey found. When taken into account the harms the practice causes, such as negative mental health outcomes and substance abuse, conversion therapy costs the U.S. $9.23 billion annually.

GLAAD defines conversion therapy as any attempt to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, conversion therapy "can be limited to individual or group settings, or at facilities that have been coined as 'conversion' or 'reprogramming' camps, where some participants recounted being subjected to punitive measures like electrocution and physical abuse." 

Nearly 700,000 adults in the U.S. have undergone conversion therapy, with about half having received the treatments as children, according to GLAAD.

Twenty-five states and Washington, D.C., have ordinances and statutes protecting youth from conversion therapy, the executive order said.

Wolf's order garnered praise from other elected officials, with State Rep. Brian Sims writing on Twitter, "Conversion Abuse has no place in modern society and we've been working to ban it in Pennsylvania for 10 years! Thank you Governor for getting us one step closer to fully eradicating conversion abuse in the commonwealth."

The order does not ban the use of conversion therapy in the state. Wolf advocated for a full conversion therapy ban, but, he said, the Republican-led General Assembly would have to pass it, CBS Pittsburgh reports.

"I want LGBTQIA+ youth and individuals across Pennsylvania to know that I stand with you," Wolf said in his press release. "I see you, I respect you, and I support you."

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988. For LGBTQIA+-specific support, call the Trevor Project's 24/7 crisis hotline at 1-866-488-7386, or text "START" to 678-678. 

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