Erie County Legislator Patrick B. Burke has been trying for two years to get legislation passed outlawing gay conversion therapy.
And he's finally found someone who might help him get it done: Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Since submitting a proposed local law last week and naming it PENCE – Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Child Endangerment – the bill has attracted widespread attention from national media, ranging from the Huffington Post to NBC News.
"There's no way that Pence didn't hear about it," said Burke, D-Buffalo.
Burke's last resolution supporting the ban of the controversial therapy, which attempts to convert individuals with a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual orientation, died in committee last month. So he reintroduced a new proposal with the new name last week.
He chose PENCE because of Pence's perceived position in support of federal funding for gay conversion therapy. Pence's 2000 Congressional campaign website stated: "Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior."
A socially conservative supporter of traditional families, Pence opposes marriage equality legislation and, as Indiana governor, signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year. The law was criticized by gay rights supporters as encouraging discrimination of members of the LGBTQ community.
National and overseas media quickly recirculated local coverage from WBFO and Time Warner Cable regarding Burke's PENCE proposal.
The 7th District legislator said he was originally hesitant to name his bill against conversion therapy after the vice president-elect.
"Doing something like that gives people the opportunity to dismiss it as a gimmick," he said. "But we're in such an extreme time, and his views, again, are so extreme, I think it's rightfully named," he said.
Conversion therapy, which treats homosexuality as a mental disorder, has been repudiated as unethical and psychologically harmful by major American psychiatric and pediatric organizations. The therapy is banned for minors in California, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Jersey and D.C.
In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning health insurance providers from covering conversion therapy treatment and curbing the ability for mental health organizations to use it on minors.
Burke likened the therapy to child abuse. But as a member of the County Legislature's Democratic minority, neither of his last two resolutions encouraging the State Senate to outlaw conversion therapy went anywhere.
So this time around, he submitted a proposed local law focused on banning conversion therapy for minors in Erie County.
"I had reserved hope that the state would come to its senses and the Senate would do the right thing," he said, "but clearly that's not going to happen."
No conversion therapy programs are registered in Erie County. But Burke said that just because no such therapy officially exists in the county doesn't mean it isn't occurring. He said he's spoken with local residents who recounted attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
"It doesn't mean religious organizations or other organizations aren't doing it," Burke said.
He also said that since his proposal has gained national attention, he's been inundated with feedback in support of the measure and believes there will now be more support in the County Legislature to get PENCE passed.
He said he plans to call for a public hearing on his proposal soon and anticipates more discussion in future committee meetings.
"There are a lot of motivated people to see this done in the Legislature," Burke said. "I strongly believe there will be a vote on this, and it will be passed."
Burke's resolution will be referred to the Legislature's Government Affairs Committee on Thursday. Legislature Chairman John J. Mills, R-Orchard Park, said Monday that a committee discussion would precede the scheduling of any public hearing.
"It has to be vetted through the committee process first," Mills said. "I think that's the procedure. A public hearing, at this point, is premature."