Erie County Legislature Votes to Ban “Conversion Therapy” on Minors

Erie County, NY – Today, the Erie County Legislature voted unanimously to the ban reparative or conversion therapy on minors. This practice attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. Although there are currently no licensed conversion therapy practitioners in Erie County, speakers at a recent hearing on the law testified that the activity is often concealed under the guise of other therapeutic measures. The legislation will make the practice of conversion therapy on minors a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or one year in jail.

The bill’s sponsor, Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke, has been a staunch proponent of banning the practice for years. In 2014 and 2015, he introduced resolutions urging the state to ban it. He then introduced a local law in 2016 to ban the practice in Erie County under the title “Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Childhood Endangerment” or PENCE, in order to draw attention to Vice President Pence’s believed support of such programs. Burke offered to change the acronym associated with the legislation if Pence voiced his opposition to the practice. Pence, to his credit, did come out against conversion therapy.

“Simply put, this is a child protection measure,” said Burke. “Referring to this practice as ‘therapy’ obscures the fact that it involves the abuse of children. Listening to the victims who have struggled with the aftermath of this often violent and debilitating practice is heartrending. I have been awed by their courage and I am glad to have been able to put an end to it in our community. I’m proud that the Erie County Legislature has come out so strongly against this unscientific quackery, and I hope the example we set today spreads across the state and nation.”

The practice is opposed by nearly all leading health agencies including: American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American College of Physicians, American Counseling Association, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, American School Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, World Health Organization and the World Psychiatric Association.

“Passing this legislation is personal for me,” said longtime LGBTQ activist Carol Speser. “Having endured conversion therapy when I was young, it has been a healing experience for me to be a part of this committed effort, led by Pat Burke, to end this archaic, brutal practice in my own backyard. I’m proud we are protecting the children of Erie County by passing this conversion therapy ban. This law will have a profound impact on children we most likely will never meet. We save the world, one tender heart at a time. This is a good day.”

"Conversion therapy is medically discredited child abuse that remains a threat to our most vulnerable LGBTQ youth,” said Bryan Ball, President of the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. “As shown with the extensive testimony at the public hearing last week, Erie County is home to both countless survivors as well as many high risk youth who may fall prey to this practice. We owe it to our children to do all we can to protect them. To pass this ban will not only prevent practitioners from inflicting harm on children, but will send a message to our youth that in our county the government sees you and is here to stand for you and protect you."

Erie County joins a number of states and municipalities that have passed conversion therapy bans in recent years, and becomes the first municipality in upstate New York to approve such a measure. In 2012, California became the first state to ban the practice and has since been joined by eight other states. Pima County Arizona and Palm Beach County, Florida instituted bans in 2017, as did Broward County, Florida in January 2018. Twenty-nine cities have bans, including New York City, which voted on a ban in December 2017. Since 2014, the New York State Assembly has passed multiple bills banning the practice, only to have them blocked by the State Senate.

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