Pittsburgh council moves to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy

Council President Bruce Kraus and Councilmember Dan Gilman are scheduled to introduce the legislation today.

Pittsburgh Pride parade

Pittsburgh Pride parade

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated, 1:08 p.m.

Pittsburgh may ban so-called conversion therapy, a discredited practice that aims to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person.

Council President Bruce Kraus and Councilmember Dan Gilman introduced the legislation, which would apply only to people under the age of 18, on Tuesday morning.

Gilman told The Incline that he’s been looking at the issue since taking office. The District 8 councilmember said he was not hearing complaints about the practice in Pittsburgh at the time.

But after the presidential election, the issue has again “come into the forefront,” he said. Gilman highlighted Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s “championing of these therapies.”

During Pence’s run for Congress in 2000, his campaign website touted directing federal funding to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Kraus likewise cited the anti-LGBTQ positions of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, which have “terrified” him. The family of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education pick, has donated money to groups that support conversion therapy, while top adviser Steve Bannon oversaw the publication of anti-gay stories.

These types of positions, Kraus said, “give voice to the homophobe that it is still OK to attack or bash gay, lesbian, bisexual [and] transgender people, because inherently there’s something wrong with them and that is why they need to be converted or changed in some way. Which I vehemently oppose.”

More than a dozen medical and mental health organizations have policies that oppose or do not recommend conversion therapy, including the American Medical Association.

“We have heard that this does occur in Pittsburgh,” Gilman said of the practice, but he added that the bill is largely a pre-emptive measure — one that signals that conversion therapy is not acceptable in the city.

Kraus, the first and only openly gay member of council, said when he was in third grade his parents “were struggling to understand who and what I was” and sought medical attention for him.

He stressed that he was not subjected to conversion therapy. Rather, he said, “I do think people are vulnerable” when struggling to understand “who and what their child may be.”

Gilman’s and Kraus’ legislation would ban all mental health professionals within city limits from engaging “in sexual orientation or gender identity or expression conversion efforts with a minor,” regardless of whether the practitioner is paid or not.

The bill covers any person offering mental health services in Pittsburgh including “physicians specializing in the practice of psychiatry, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, professional clinical counselors, behavioral clinicians or therapists [and] nurses.”

As for the legality of such a ban, Gilman and Kraus both said they believe the council is within its rights to pass such a bill. They also believe their council colleagues will support the legislation.

The election of Trump set off a wave of protests and peaceful demonstrations across the country, including in Pittsburgh. Mayor Bill Peduto moved to calm fears at his Nov. 14 budget presentation, saying “No matter what the law in Washington is, you can’t outlaw compassion.”

Kraus declined to speculate about possible pushback from the state legislature to the bill and about future actions by the Trump administration that may negatively affect Pittsburgh.

“It’s always important to question authority,” he said, “in whatever form or shape it may take. That’s part of the job that we do here.”

Gilman said he hopes the federal government will not take any action that would prevent Pittsburgh from being, as Peduto put it, “a city for all.

“My hope is that we’re able to continue down the exact same path,” Gilman said.