Let’s Protect Gay Teens: Block Conversion Therapy

Trenton should act faster on bill to block conversion therapy.

Troy Stevenson and Steven Goldstein
Steven Goldstein, right, who founded Garden State Equality in 2004, introduced his successor, Troy Stevenson, who took over as executive director of the LGBT advocacy group in January. In March, Stevenson and other GSE members went to Trenton, where he testified before the Senate Health Committee against gay conversion therapy. He told the panel about a gay high school friend in his home state of Oklahoma who committed suicide after being sent to a conversion therapy camp.
Courtesy of Garden State Equality.

Some people think being gay is a sickness or mental disorder that requires therapy. They believe being gay is something you learn or develop over time based on your surroundings. Hence, it is something you can “fix”—indeed, something you must fix.

Thank goodness, those who entertain this line of thinking—which is not backed by any credible scientific evidence—are in the minority. Yet these ideas have generated nationwide support for something called conversion therapy.

It is scary stuff.

The therapy takes a variety of forms and can include the ministrations of psychiatrists, counselors, therapists and social workers. They work with people under the age of 18 who identify themselves as gay; often these young men and women have parents who want them to “convert” to being straight.

Such lunacy has prompted several Democratic legislators—with strong support from the group Garden State Equality—to introduce a bill banning the practice in New Jersey. “Conversion therapy not only has no basis in science, it has proven to be harmful to young people,” says the legislation’s prime sponsor, Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union). “Most of the major psychiatric, psychological and counseling organizations have warned of dangers of this practice. I believe it is a type of child abuse that should be prevented.”

The legislation would ban mental health professionals from engaging in any practice or therapy that would attempt to change the sexual orientation of anyone under the age of 18. Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a sponsor, describes conversion therapy as “devastating,” and adds, “This legislation is about protecting our children.”

You would think such legislation would move quickly in the halls of the State Capitol, but you would be wrong. In March, the bill, S2278, passed the Senate Health Committee by a vote of 7 to 1 with two abstentions. But at press time, it hasn’t been posted for a vote in either house and, I’m told, is not a priority in Trenton.

Governor Chris Christie is against the practice of conversion therapy, but has expressed concerns about the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit without government intrusion.

The conversion therapy debate can give rise to some absurd comments, none stranger than those uttered by the veteran state Senator Ron Rice (D-Newark). During a committee hearing, Rice called homosexuality a “fad.”

Rice didn’t stop there. “Some of this stuff is biological,” he added. “I’ll respect the science and the biologies and the chromosomes and the hormones and all this stuff…But some of this is also learned behavior. And if anybody here denies that, then there’s something wrong with you. You don’t live in the real world.”

Rice concluded, “You are a product of your environment….Oftentimes you grow up and you just sort of go with the flow.”

Really, Senator? Is that how being gay works? Where do you get your information? What science or research backs up your conclusions?

Troy Stevenson, newly installed executive director of the advocacy group Garden State Equality, witnessed Rice’s comments. “I didn’t understand what he was saying then,” says Stevenson, “and I still don’t understand it now. It sounded like gibberish.”

In the end, I am confident the legislation will pass and that Governor Christie will sign it. I’m sure he knows that conversion therapy is wrong—notwithstanding his concerns about government overstepping its bounds with parents. That’s not what this effort is about. It is about protecting gay teenagers from a dangerous and destructive practice—despite what Ron Rice or any who support his off-the-wall view think.

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