Reading City Council bans 'conversion therapy' for minors

Proposed marijuana ordinance withdrawn

READING, Pa. - Reading City Council withdrew a proposed pot ordinance and banned sexual orientation conversion therapy for minors.

The marijuana ordinance would have reduced the offense for possession of small amounts of the drug from a misdemeanor to a summary offense.

Councilwoman Donna Reed, who wrote the ordinance, said some council members opposed it, saying that such changes should come from the state.

With passage of the ban on the conversion therapy, Reading became the fourth city in Pennsylvania to take a stand against the controversial practice.

City Council members voted unanimously to prohibit licensed professionals from engaging in counseling practices, or treatments that seek to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

During public comment, several people — Jocelyn Young, president of the LGBT Center of Greater Reading; Ben Renkus, president of Reading Pride Celebration; and Pastor Steve Ohnsman from Calvary United Church of Christ in Reading — spoke in support of the ban, calling the therapy everything from cruel and inhumane to archaic and barbaric.

A representative from the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown said:

"It is impossible to force someone to be attracted to a gender in which they are not attracted to. It would be like trying to fit into a pair of shoes that aren't your size. Being LGBT in itself doesn't cause any mental health effects. It is not inherently wrong. What causes substance abuse issues and suicide risk and other mental health issues is society’s reaction to LGBT, which is what makes it more harmful to try to convert someone to be anyone other than who they are. LGBT people are perfect as they are."

Several council members also expressed their support of the ban.

"I've seen the results of this [therapy] in my classes, and for some of my former students, it has been catastrophic," said Councilman Christopher Daubert.

Reed said she has personally seen the pain that is caused by not accepting someone for who they are. She said that society should embrace children as they are and not force them to change their identity to fit into society’s norms.

"We are not the first jurisdiction to enact this. Nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted statewide laws. Twenty-seven municipalities throughout the country have enacted similar laws," Reed said.

"Quite frankly, I'm so pleased to pass some kind of progressive legislation," said Councilman John Slifko, adding that it puts Reading on the map as a progressive municipality.

In other business, council authorized the purchase of the property at 932A Penn Street, however, how the property will be used is still up for discussion. Several council members expressed their concern that the administration's suggestion to use it as a fire station may not be the best use of the property.

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