Kevin Riordan: Gay conversion: A myth we must legislate away

Posted: March 25, 2013

Successful techniques to transform gays into straights are like Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; they don't exist but can still cause a lot of damage.

So perhaps it's appropriate that a battle about banning "reparative" therapy for gay kids has erupted during the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war.

Democrats in the New Jersey Senate, including gubernatorial nominee-in-waiting Barbara Buono, want to prohibit state-licensed professionals from practicing "conversion" therapy on minors.

There's less evidence for the efficacy of this alleged homo-to-hetero alchemy than exists for the reverse. Which is none at all. And even Gov. Christie acknowledges gay kids are born that way. Just like straight ones.

But the Republican governor, whose soft-shoe about marriage equality ("let's put on a referendum!") is a clumsy pander to his far right, worries that stopping professional counselors from perpetrating purported conversion schemes on kids might constitute government interference in parent-child relationships.

Let's be clear: The bill does not stop New Jersey parents from teaching or saying to their children whatever they want to about homosexuality. It offers no comment on people of faith who hope to pray the gay away.

If approved by the Legislature, which seems likely, and signed by the governor (perhaps he's . . . evolving), the measure would simply prohibit therapists from trying to "convert" gay minors.

The debate may seem arcane, but it's really about whether homosexuality is what a person does or who a person is.

Those who believe same-sex attractions are by nature dysfunctional or depraved see homosexuality as behavior, a mere habit rightfully subject to change.

Others see sexual orientation as an essential component of personhood, an attribute neither inherently good nor bad. And no more malleable than, say, blood type.

Yet this most personal of matters - whom one loves - is once again center stage in an election-year pageant, costarring two of those congenital drama queens otherwise known as career politicians.

Christie is trying to triangulate while appeasing the CPAC crowd in advance of a potential presidential run in 2016. Buono is straining to make hay over Christie's ambiguity, perhaps in hopes of raising her poll numbers from the dead.

Success for these partisan acrobats will require a mastery of magical powers similar to those needed by any counselor seeking to presto-changeo gay children into straight ones.

Not that there's any entertainment in such forced makeover attempts on underage human beings, as testimony last week before a New Jersey Senate committee showed.

Some witnesses told of enduring electroshock, and, after "treatment," suicide attempts. They offered accounts of what sounded very much like a form of child abuse. Except legal.

In the '70s, I sought to change the sexual orientation about which I had been acutely conscious since early childhood. The therapist, whose voice I can still hear but whose name I have forgotten, was kind, insightful, and well-intentioned.

With her guidance, I pursued dates with women, an egregious exercise in which I never informed them that they were merely props. This selfish quest to trade myself in for a supposedly superior model finally ended, thanks to Anita Bryant.

The onetime beauty queen's attempt to rid America of gays failed. But she convinced me that my own resistance was futile - that trying to renovate myself to suit the preferences of some talentless TV demagogue made no sense.

I hadn't undergone a conversion. I had opted to face, and embrace, reality.

Christie can do the same. If the bill banning the conversions he believes are impossible reaches his desk, he ought to sign it.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

|
|
|
|
|