County lawmaker calls for ban on conversion therapy

Nov 22, 2016

An Erie County lawmaker wants to put an end to conversion therapy on youths. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Legislator Patrick Burke has introduced a local law that would ban the practice.   

Pride Flag outside of Buffalo's City Hall.
Credit WBFO News file photo

“I think it is an abusive practice. Some of the things that are actually carried out in conversion therapy are pretty disturbing,” stated Burke in a WBFO interview.

Burke said conversion therapy on teens and children has gone on far too long. The practice is used to try to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Those against the process call it anti-gay.

“This practice has no business in our society and really the idea of trying to sexually desensitize children is disgusting and distributing,” Burke remarked.

Burke is proposing a law titled the Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Childhood Endangerment. That forms the acronym PENCE, a reference to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who has supported funding the therapy.

“Mike Pence is probably going to have the most power of any vice president in the history of our country and he has openly advocated for conversion therapy. I want that to sink into people. I want them to realize it's a serious issue of abuse of children flatly, whether they are gay or not, its abuse, then you have a man who is going to have enormous power over all of us, who advocates for it,” Burke explained.

Burke said when he speaks to citizens about the issue, many are surprised to learn it is not illegal. There is no state law, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a ban earlier this year ordering mental health professionals not to practice on those under the age of 18. 

Burke, a Democrat, said he hopes all lawmakers consider his proposal bill as soon as possible, and expects it to be debated sometime next month and into the new year.  

Republican Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo has also come out against the use of conversion therapy. Lorigo issued a written statement acknowledging Burke's proposed law, but pointed out there has been no reported use of in the county.

“Like Legislator Burke, I believe conversion therapy is dangerous and inappropriate.  It also has no basis in legitimate science. As a result, and as Legislator Burke acknowledges in his proposed law, there has been no use of this technique anywhere in Erie County. I am 100 percent opposed to this brand of ‘therapy,’ but I am also opposed to attempting to legislate every single issue we can think of, especially a law banning something that has never actually happened in Erie County," stated Lorigo.

Burke has unsuccessfully pushed for the issue the past two years and this time, he is hoping to build up public support.

The Western New York Anti-Violence Project is also fighting for an end to conversion therapy.