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WITH STEVE ADUBATO
Let’s Protect Gay Teens
Trenton should act faster on bill to block conversion therapy.
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 con-
version 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
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 hear-
PASSING THE TORCH: 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.
ing, 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 chromo-
somes 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
Troy Stevenson, newly installed executive director of the ad-
vocacy 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 govern-
ment overstepping its bounds with parents. That’s not what this
effort is about. It is about protecting gay teenagers from a dan-
gerous and destructive practice—despite what Ron Rice or any
who support his off-the-wall view think. ■
PHOTO: COURTESY OF GARDEN STATE EQUALIT Y
Steve Adubato, PhD., is an Emmy Award–winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJTV (PBS) who regularly appears on the Today show, Fox 5 in
New York and WOR News Talk Radio 710. His newest book, You Are the Brand, examines the brand strategies of more than 30 individuals and companies.
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