New Jersey Bans Gay Conversion Therapy
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law on Monday a bill that prohibits therapists from trying to convince gay teenagers to be straight.
The practice of gay conversion therapy has been widely discredited as ineffective and dangerous to youth, criticized for pushing children into depression and even suicide. One legislator referred it as “an insidious form of child abuse.”
New Jersey is the second state to pass a ban on the therapy, and will likely be the first with an active law since a bill that passed in California last year is currently held up in litigation.
“For New Jersey it means that no longer will individuals be able to try to strip away immutable characteristics of people,” says Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey civil rights organization that helped push for the law. “Children don’t have to be ashamed for being who they are.”
Other states could follow in New Jersey and California’s footsteps, including Massachusetts and New York which are currently considering similar legislation.
“This is a huge step forward for the national movement and creating a safer environment for LGBT youth,” Stevenson says.
Drug Abuse and Suicide
Specifically, New Jersey’s law blocks licensed therapists from trying to turn gay kids straight in the course of their professional duties. “This is meant to protect minors,” says Alison Gill, an attorney and government affairs director for The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention organization for LGBT youth. “They’re really damaging practices that have been discredited for many years. All the national major mental health groups have disfavored this.”
Despite the consensus against the so-called therapy, parents might unwittingly think they are trying to help their children. The law in New Jersey not only makes it illegal, it draws attention to the negative impact of the discredited practices to begin with.
“Parents might bring their youth to orientation change efforts not knowing how damaging they can be,” Gill says. “It can result in negative outcomes like depression, anxiety, drug abuse and suicide. It’s really important that this step be taken so people become aware of the dangerous nature of these practices.”
Gay conversion bans were already under fire in New Jersey even before Christie signed the new law. Last year, four men who took the therapy sued a provider called Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing for using sham tactics and trying to “fix something that isn’t broken.”
The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was the first of its kind in the nation. The plaintiffs allege that among other humiliations, they were made to stand naked in a circle while being taunted with homophobic slurs.
“JONAH profits off of shameful and dangerous attempts to fix something that isn’t broken,” Christine P. Sun, deputy legal director for the SPLC, said in a statement. “Despite the consensus of mainstream professional organizations that conversion therapy doesn’t work, this racket continues to scam vulnerable gay men and lesbians out of thousands of dollars and inflicts significant harm on them.”
Undaunted, JONAH is one of several groups lining up to challenge New Jersey’s ban. “The decision [to use conversion therapy] should be a joint decision between a parent and child,” the group’s co-founder told the Washington Times. “By the age of 14, children are old enough to know if they want help or not.”
California’s law is currently enjoined by federal judges in anticipation of hearings on whether the bill violates the First Amendment speech protections of therapists and parents, and JONAH and other organizations in New Jersey could file a similar lawsuit soon.
However, Christie has already made his stance clear. “I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,” the governor said. “Government should tread carefully into this area, and I do so here reluctantly.”