News Sexuality

New Jersey Couple Suing State Over Law Barring Reparative Therapy

Martha Kempner

Earlier this year, New Jersey became the second state to ban reparative therapy—the practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation—for minors. Now a couple is suing, saying that their son wants this therapy and should be allowed to get it.

A New Jersey couple is suing the state over a law barring reparative therapy, the practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

Reparative therapy is denounced by all major medical and psychological organizations, as it has been found to be both ineffectual and harmful to patients’ mental health. While many adults have undergone this type of therapy voluntarily, there are numerous stories of young people who say they were forced into it by their parents.

A law passed in March in the state bans licensed practitioners from performing gay conversion therapy on minors, even if parental permission is given. But now the law is being challenged in court by an unnamed couple who wishes to seek reparative therapy for their son. According to the Washington Post, the parents “claim in their suit that the law violates their rights to free speech and freedom of religion, as well as their 14th Amendment right to equal protection, by ‘denying minors the opportunity to pursue a particular course of action that can help them address the conflicts between their religious and moral values and same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.’”

The suit against the law goes on to explain that the boy in question “has a sincerely held religious belief and conviction that homosexuality is wrong and immoral, and he wanted to address that value conflict because his unwanted same-sex attractions and gender confusion are contrary to the fundamental religious values that he holds.”

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, fresh off an election win, with his eye seemingly on the Republican presidential nomination, has tread carefully when it comes to LGBTQ issues and rights. He is Catholic, but has said he does not see homosexuality as a sin. He opposes gay marriage and vetoed a bill to make it legal in New Jersey, but when it became clear that he could not win this issue in the state’s courts, his administration dropped its plans to appeal. His mixed record and competing priorities meant that many were unclear about what he was going to do earlier this year when the reparative therapy bill was introduced.

Gov. Christie initially said he was of two minds on this issue: “Number one, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children. I don’t—this is a general philosophy, not to his bill—generally philosophically, on bills that restrict parents’ ability to make decisions on how to care for their children, I’m generally a skeptic of those bills. Now, there can always be exceptions to those rules, and this bill may be one of them.” Ultimately, however, he signed the bill.

The law only applies to licensed mental health-care providers. However, reparative therapy is often provided by religious advisers, and the law does not prevent the boy’s parents from turning to such individuals.

The lawyer for the parents in the suit told the Washington Post that he believes the law is based on faulty research because very little of it actually looked at minors. He said, “The Legislature, in enacting this legislation, relied on reports that this was harmful. We believe that the literature and reports are not accurate and what the legislation relied on is erroneous and that there are constitutional implications.”

Experts, however, disagree. Dr. Jack Drescher, who has written extensively on this issue, told the Atlantic Wire, “[The idea that] being gay is a choice has no basis in current scientific thinking. Not only is homosexuality ‘not a choice,’ as most efforts to try and change a person’s sexual orientation fail, but some attempts to change can cause harm and damage to an individual’s well-being.”

California is the only other state that has a law banning reparative therapy for minors. That law was the subject of a similar challenge earlier this year but was upheld by federal appeals court in August.

A federal judge is scheduled to decide by December 2 whether to grant a preliminary injunction to keep the New Jersey law from being enforced. The couple who filed the suit is also asking for “nominal damages” and attorneys’ fees.

News Sexuality

Government Report Condemns ‘Conversion Therapy’ for Young People

Martha Kempner

The report charges that same-gender sexual orientation and variations in gender identity and expression are “part of the normal spectrum of human diversity and do not constitute a mental disorder.”

A federal government report released Thursday calls for an end to the controversial practice of so-called conversion therapy, which is opposed by all major medical organizations and has been denounced by the Obama administration.

Sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy,” conversion therapy aims to change sexual orientation or gender identity.

The new report, Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth, was released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and is based on the consensus statement reached in July by a panel of the American Psychological Association.

The report charges that same-gender sexual orientation and variations in gender identity and expression are “part of the normal spectrum of human diversity and do not constitute a mental disorder.” It goes on to say that “interventions aimed at a fixed outcome, such as gender conformity or heterosexual orientation…are coercive, can be harmful, and should not be part of the behavioral health treatment.”

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Conversion therapy can include anything from Bible study to forced heterosexual dating to aversion therapy, in which patients are shown homosexual erotica and shocked every time they display arousal. It became popular in the late-1970s and ’80s, even as mainstream medical organizations stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental illness and began to, instead, help patients accept their sexual orientation and live in a sometimes hostile world.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, conversion therapy became synonymous with the “ex-gay” movement led by religious ministries that promised men they could “pray away the gay.” Many of these ministries were plagued by scandals in which leaders were either caught or admitted to having gay relationships while they condemned the LGBTQ community, as Rewire has reported.

Many of the movement’s leaders have apologized to the gay community and many of the ministries have shut their doors.

The APA released a report in 2009 that reviewed decades of research and found that conversion therapy was not only ineffective, it was potentially harmful. Patients exposed to this kind of therapy experienced loss of sexual feelings, depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.

Since the report, a number of states, including New Jersey and California, have banned conversion therapy for minors.

The Obama administration in April released a report condemning the practice and urging more states to pass laws protecting young people from conversion therapy. Senators Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also took a stand against conversion therapy for young people in the form of a resolution in May that urged their Senate colleagues to condemn the practice.

Thursday’s report echoes these condemnations and tries to help parents find a better option. “When dealing with a sensitive topic such as gender identity or sexual orientation in young people, it is essential that families, educators, caregivers, and providers seek the best available information and advice,” SAMHSA Acting Administrator Kana Enomoto, said in a statement. “SAMHSA’s report provides this information, as well as resources young people, families and others can use to promote healthy development for all youth.”

News Human Rights

Senate Democrats Want Their Colleagues to Condemn ‘Conversion Therapy’

Martha Kempner

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a resolution last week condemning conversion therapy and urging states to make it illegal to subject minors to such “treatment.”

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a resolution last week condemning “conversion therapy” and urging states to make it illegal to subject minors to such “treatment.”

So-called conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. All major medical organizations oppose the practice, a number of states—including Booker’s home state of New Jersey—have passed legislation banning the practice for minors, and the White House recently came out against it.

The resolution, which does not yet have any Republican support, aims to put the Senate’s disapproval of the practice on record and bolster state efforts to ban the deeply controversial therapy.

All 23 current co-sponsors caucus with Senate Democrats.

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Entitled, “Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution of 2015,” the resolution notes that “conversion therapy” is rooted in the false notion that those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are suffering from a mental illness and need to be cured. It says “the development of all children and adolescents into healthy and productive adults is a priority of the United States and ending prejudice and injustice based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity is a human rights issue.”

“Conversion therapy” runs counter to this goal.

“All people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to be treated with compassion and respect,” Booker said in a statement. “This resolution seeks to unite members of the Senate around the idea that this shameful practice has no place in our society.”

Conversion therapy became popular in the 1970s and ’80s after mainstream mental health organizations declared that homosexuality was not a mental illness and instead of attempting to change a patient’s sexual orientation, therapists should help them understand it and cope in a sometimes unfriendly society, as Rewire has reported.

Some therapists continued practices designed to change sexual orientation and a number of religious organizations started ministries dedicated to reparative therapy. The programs varied from independent bible study to aversion therapy, which involved administering electric shocks every time a patient became aroused by gay pornography.

“Practitioners often use shame, rejection, and psychological abuse. … Those that experience this traumatizing practice often become depressed and experience low self-esteem,” Booker and Brown said in a joint statement. “In some cases these individuals engage in substance abuse and even commit suicide.”

Many experts and lawmakers in recent years have come out against this type of therapy. The American Psychological Association in 2009 released a study that found reparative therapy to be ineffectual and potentially harmful.

Most major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree and have announced opposition to the practice.

California, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning the practice for minors, even with parental permission. Anti-conversion therapy laws in New Jersey and California were challenged in court and both were found to be constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case against either law, leaving the laws in place.

The White House in April posted a letter to its website condemning the practice and encouraging states to enact similar bans. White House advisor Valerie Jarrett noted that such laws are sometimes dedicated to Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who killed herself after a therapist tried to make her identify as a boy.

“It’s tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately, she has lots of company,” Jarrett told the New York Times. “It’s not the story of one young person, it’s the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”