Election 2024

Pennsylvania GOP candidate says it’s “disgusting” that people want to end conversion therapy

State Sen. Doug Mastriano
State Sen. Doug Mastriano Photo: Senatormastriano.com

Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a Christian nationalist, said that it’s “disgusting” that the state’s current Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order against so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited form of psychological torture that purports to change people’s sexual orientations and gender identities.

Speaking Thursday on 103.7 FM, a conservative talk radio station, Mastriano expressed anger at Wolf’s recent executive order directing state agencies to ensure that neither government workers nor taxpayer funds promote conversion therapy, The Huffington Post reported.

Mastriano also expressed anger that his Democratic political opponent, Josh Shapiro, has spoken out against conversion therapy too.

“This is disgusting to me, where bureaucrats and Tom Wolf — and Josh Shapiro — thinks it’s okay to come in and threaten parents and therapists because their kids might be confused,” Mastriano said in his radio interview.

The interviewer, Michele Jansen, said she also opposed Wolf’s executive order, adding “[the LGBTQ movement is] an activist, political, ideological group. They’re not an ethnicity. They’re not a community of people.”

To be clear, Wolf’s executive order doesn’t “threaten” parents. It contains no consequences for parents seeking conversion therapy for their kids. Wolf’s order merely ensures that state government resources don’t support a pseudoscience that has been disavowed as ineffective and harmful by the nation’s largest medical and mental health associations.

Also, Mastriano’s comment about kids just being “confused” echoes a popular right-wing talking point. Right-wingers claim that young people coming to terms with possible queer identities are actually just “confused” or have been “indoctrinated” by teachers, peers, and media that essentially pressure them into identifying as part of the LGBTQ community. These arguments have been used to claim that all LGBTQ content should be banned from schools.

During his interview, Mastriano blamed educators for confusing kids and said that schools “have graphic pornographic books laid out.” His latter claim is almost certainly untrue, as any school displaying explicit sexual images would have news and images of the content quickly go viral online, becoming a major news story as it outrages parents and community members across the political spectrum.

In truth, claims of in-school pornography have only been repeated by conservative activists looking to ban LGBTQ-themed books and sex educational materials from schools and local libraries.

Mastriano’s comments aren’t really surprising considering his numerous past actions against the queer community. As a state senator, he has supported anti-LGBTQ legislation including a bill that would ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ teams and a bill that would force trans people to use public bathrooms matching the gender they were assigned at birth. He has also endorsed legislation that would stop same-sex couples from adopting children.

Additionally, his 2001 college thesis expressed disgust for anyone who doesn’t hold the view that homosexuality is a form of “aberrant sexual conduct,” according to The Washington Post.

The true dangers of so-called conversion therapy

Wolf’s press release announcing his executive order mentioned a peer-reviewed study from The Trevor Project which showed that 13 percent of LGBTQ youth nationwide had reported being subjected to conversion therapy. Of those, 83 percent were subjected to it before reaching the age of 18. The study showed that young people who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide afterward.

The methods of so-called conversion therapists include encouraging queer people not to masturbate, redirecting their sexual energy into exercise, “covert aversion” (a fancy name for imagining possible negative consequences of being queer), Bible study, directing same-sex sexual desire onto opposite-sex partners, inflicting pain and humiliation anytime LGBTQ feelings arise, and forcing people to act out stereotypical gender roles in behavior and personal appearance.

“Researchers found that when they accounted for the harms caused by conversion therapy – including negative mental health outcomes and substance use – conversion therapy costs our nation $9.23 billion each year,” Wolf’s announcement said.

“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” Wolf noted. “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.”

Twenty-nine U.S. states have either passed full or partial bans on conversion therapy for minors. In three of those states — Alabama, Georgia, and Florida — court injunctions have stopped the bans from going into effect while legal challenges to the bans proceed in court.

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