Ban on a 'gay conversion' therapy advances in N.J.

A committee voted to make illegal treatment aimed at turning gay minors heterosexual.

Posted: March 20, 2013

TRENTON - A Senate committee voted Monday to advance a bill that would ban licensed therapists from trying to make gay New Jersey minors become heterosexual.

The Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee vote followed a debate about the practice known as "conversion therapy" and how much say the state should have in parental decisions about child-rearing.

After passing 7-1 with two abstentions, the bill heads to the full Senate, though some senators said the language needed clarification.

Conversion therapy has increasingly drawn criticism. Last year, four gay men sued a Jersey City therapy group for fraud, saying its program included making them strip naked and attack effigies of their mothers with baseball bats.

Last year, California became the first state to pass a law banning the practice, also called "reparative therapy," but a federal judge in December halted implementation pending arguments over its constitutionality.

New Jersey lawmakers heard horror stories about the programs, including from Brielle Goldani of Toms River.

She said that in 1997, at 14, she was sent to a camp in Ohio. Goldani told lawmakers she was given electric shocks and drugs to induce vomiting as part of the treatment.

"This is nothing more than legalized child abuse," said Goldani.

Lawmakers heard of suicides of young people who had been in such programs and that many associations of professional therapists say the programs are not valid ways to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as well as those questioning their sexual orientation.

"These practices are based on the false idea that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that needs to be cured," said Alison Gill, a lobbyist for the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to young gays, "an idea which has been rejected by every major mental health group for decades."

In addition to testimony from critics, the committee also heard from people who said they were formerly gay and credited therapy with helping rid them of homosexual feelings.

Two therapists told the lawmakers that they should be allowed to help clients, even those under 18, become straight if that is what they want.

"I fix what they want to fix," said Tara King, a Brick-based counselor.

The senators heard from a practitioner who criticized that point of view. "It's not client-centered to try to fix something," said Jacquelyn Warr-Williams, a social worker who said the bill does not outlaw therapists' helping clients explore issues related to their sexuality.

They also heard from people who said the bill, if adopted, would undermine parents' ability to do what they believe best for their children.

"I don't understand who you people are, trying to come into our homes and tell us what to do with our children," Carol Gallentine told the lawmakers. "I see you people bullying the parents."

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