Monday, March 18, 2013
Despite Bizarre Testimony In Opposition, New Jersey Senate Panel Advances Bill Banning Licensed Counselors From Employing Anti-Gay Conversion Therapy; S2278 Now Advances To Full Senate
First there were the “flirting classes” designed to teach the gay teenage boy how to socialize with members of the opposite sex, and then the orders to masturbate to women’s images. And – with his parents’ consent – there were electric shock treatments twice a week and medicine to induce vomiting when a therapist flashed a photo of two men holding hands. That young teen, now Brielle Sophia Goldani, a transgender woman from Toms River, New Jersey, told a packed hearing room in Trenton Monday that this is what she went through during “conversion therapy” at a camp in Ohio where counselors tried to change her sexual orientation. "I live with the psychological damage this program did to me every day," Goldani said. She told lawmakers she had tried to kill herself -- three times. After a tense-three hour hearing in Trenton, the Senate’s health committee approved a bill that would ban licensed counselors from using “conversion therapy” on gays. Supporters called the practice damaging and demoralizing, while bill opponents accused state lawmakers of interfering with the counselor-patient relationship and intruding on parents' rights. Only California has enacted a ban on the practice, which sponsors say is opposed by the American Psychological and American Psychiatric associations. The bill’s Assembly sponsor, Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), said he introduced the measure after “several constituents (young people) … came to our office complaining that this still exists." Last fall, four men sued a Jersey City-based gay conversion therapy group, claiming they suffered psychological abuse during treatment sessions. “It constitutes child abuse," said Eustace, who is openly gay. Troy Stevenson, executive director for Garden State Equality, recounted a tragedy from his high school days in Oklahoma. He and boy from a rival school exchanged a kiss witnessed by members of the football team after practice. "We ran for what felt like our lives," he said. "When we made it to our homes safely, my first call was to my friend to make sure he was OK. He told me he 'couldn't go back,' then described the camp his parents sent him to when he told them he was gay," Stevenson said. The next day his friend committed suicide. Mordechai Levovitz, co-director for Jewish Queer Youth, a support group for about 700 people from the orthodox Jewish community, said his parents started his conversion therapy when he six years old because he wanted to play with dolls. "There was one message made clear to me as a child . . . there was something very wrong with who I was," he said. Supporters of the therapy, however, said it helps thousands of people happily live as heterosexuals. Christopher Doyle a counselor at the California-based International Healing Foundation who said he is a former homosexual, called Goldani's story was "heart-breaking," but urged the committee not to believe "this is a mainstream practice. . .These are the exceptions to the rule." Doyle held up a poster-size photo of his pregnant wife and two young children, "to give you an idea of who you will marginalize" with this bill. Carol Gallentine of Roseland, another opponent of the bill, angrily told the panel it was every parent's civil right to raise their children as they see fit. "I'm a voter and I want to encourage you to stay out my family life," he said. Republicans on the committee expressed reservations. Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Middlesex) said the bill may drive some parents to unlicensed therapists. Sen. Dawn Addiego (R-Burlington) said the bill troubled her because she didn't want it to limit the kinds of issues therapists and their patients could talk about. Tara King, a licensed therapist in Brick urged the committee not to interfere with her work. "When clients come to me, I address what they want," she said. King said she sought counseling when she was 19, only to be told she had no choice but to accept that she was a lesbian. "It wasn't until I was 24 and a former lover told me she was seeking therapy specifically to get out of homosexuality that for the first time in my life I had heard it was a choice." The Senate panel approved the bill (S2278) 7-1, with two abstentions. It now advances to the full Senate.