The vice president-elect got a shoutout in the name of a new bill.
New York lawmaker Patrick Burke is doing his part to put an end to a controversial brand of "therapy" that targets the LGBTQ community, specifically kids and young adults.
The goal of this practice, called "conversion therapy," is to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, and Burke wants to put an end to it in Erie County, New York.
"I didn't know it was still a thing," Burke says, referencing a troubling conversation he had with someone who told him of their experience as a survivor of conversion therapy and the horrible things that were done to them — to the point where it made them suicidal.
"It was really hard to sit there and listen to a person who had suffered so much, and there's nothing to say, but there's certainly something to do," Burke says.
While conversion therapy has been around for decades, there's little credible proof that it works — and it's certainly not humane.
Over time, conversion therapy has consisted of everything from lobotomies to electroshock treatments to psychoanalysis. It's been described as "torture," and to top it off, it doesn't even work, having been discredited by some of the country's major medical associations.
Five states — California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, and Vermont — along with Washington, D.C., have banned the practice.
While Burke has proposed similar legislation in the past, he's trying a different approach this time around: focusing on our next vice president.
The full name of Burke's bill is the Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Childhood Endangerment — or PENCE, for short, a reference to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Over the course of Pence's career in government, he's earned a reputation as one of the most anti-LGBTQ politicians in the country. He's voted against LGBTQ nondiscrimination bills, spoken out against marriage equality, and yes, even advocated for diverting taxpayer funds from HIV/AIDS prevention programs to support conversion therapy efforts.
Burke has helped influence national policy through local legislation before. With PENCE, he hopes to do it again.
In 2015, Burke proposed a ban on microbeads — which have been linked to plastic particle water pollution — in soaps and facial scrubs. In July 2015, Erie County became the first municipality in the country to ban the beads. Nine states followed suit, and in December 2015, President Obama signed a nationwide ban into law.
While President Obama has called on Congress to pass a bill banning conversion therapy, efforts to end the practice on a nationwide scale have stalled. Burke hopes that, once again, his push for local legislation can reignite a national conversation about an important issue.
"We're going to do this here, we're going to do it right, and we're gonna try and lead again," says Burke.
As for the bill's name, Burke is happy to change it — if Pence walks back his past support for conversion therapy.
Pence's support for conversion therapy comes from a 2000 statement on his website. While it's understandable that a person's views might change over the course of 16 years, Pence hasn't ever walked it — or, really, any of his anti-LGBTQ views — back. Burke hopes his bill will put a little pressure on Pence to do just that.
"If Mike Pence wants to publicly say he opposes conversion therapy, I'll change the name of the law tomorrow," adds Burke. "I'd be happy to do that."
Even if Pence never comes out against conversion therapy, there's still something we can all do to help.
It starts with educating ourselves and others. People need to know that efforts to "de-gay" and "de-trans" kids are alive and well. Until Burke encountered someone who had undergone the practice, he didn't know about the practice. It's an issue that could use some raised awareness, and that's something we can all help out with.
Another important thing you can do to help put an end to conversion therapy is to write and call your Congressperson to let them know you support bills like Representative Ted Lieu's Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would outlaw the practice.
It's an overwhelming time in our country, which makes these small acts more important than ever before.