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CNY LGBT Groups Push for a Statewide Ban on Youth Conversion Therapy

Valerie Crowder, WAER News

Central New York advocates for LGBT issues praise President Obama for his recent public stance against conversion therapy for minors, as the New York State Legislature prepares for a vote on two proposals that would outlaw the practice on youth.

“I think anytime the president, the administration, talks about something, it makes a huge difference,” said Kim Dill, executive director of Sage Upstate. “I do think that it will influence people.”

Conversion therapy, also referred to as “reparative therapy,” tries to change the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. It also seeks to encourage transgender people to identify with their biological sex.  Religious groups conduct many of these therapies, and parents often send their LGBT children to treatment camps.

When counselors or others shame LGBT youth for their identity, it makes them “feel like there’s always something wrong,” Dill said. “We’re more impressionable when we’re younger – we’re figuring out our identities. When someone defines you in a way that makes you less of a person, that stays with you.”

Several health care organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have confirmed the negative health risks of youth conversion therapy.

Consider these statistics from the National Institutes of Health and theCDC:

-          The suicide risk for young people who feel rejected because of their sexual orientation is eight times higher than those who experience acceptance.

-          LGB middle school and high school students have double the chance of attempting suicide than their heterosexual peers.

-          Twenty five percent of 55 transgender youth surveyed reported at least one suicide attempt.

Kim Dill primarily works with middle-age LGBT people, some of whom have experienced conversion therapy and have now become “ex-ex-gays.” They “went through the torture of whatever, denying themselves. And then, they had to come out again to get away from it,” she said.

Credit Facebook
Leelah Alcorn, a transgender youth who died by suicide at age 17 in December, hoped her death would raise awareness about the dangers of youth conversion therapy.

In addition to increasing the risk of suicide, youth conversion therapy raises the chances of substance abuse and depression, said Chris Shepherd, treasurer of CNY Pride.  That’s why his organization, which focuses on public education, will lobby lawmakers in Albany in two weeks to ban these practices.  

“These are the things that are part of simply insisting that the days when we will accept anything that smells like second class citizenship are over with – nothing special, no special treatment, but nothing less either,” he said.

Last year, the New York State Assembly passed a bill that would outlaw conversion therapy for minors, but that proposal never received a vote in the Senate.  Both Assemblymen Al Stirpe, D-North Syracuse, and Bill Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, co-sponsored that legislation.

Earlier this year, different legislation was introduced in both the Assembly and the Senate. Stirpe is listed as a co-sponsor on the Assembly proposal.  If adults choose to receive conversion therapy, that’s fine, Stirpe said. “But, to try to force kids to go through it, when they might not want to go through it, to me, just seems to be the wrong thing to do.”

While the new Assembly bill could likely pass, Stirpe said, the Senate proposal will likely struggle under the Republican control.“The Republican majority’s base tends to fall on the other side of a lot of these social issues. They don’t seem to want to take the lead on anything like that,” Stirpe said.

Two states, along with Washington D.C., have passed legislation that bans conversion therapy for minors, and 18 states have introduced similar bills.

President Obama recently spoke out against conversion therapy in a statement. The administration also posted a petition in support of Leelah’s Law, a proposal for a national ban on all conversion therapy in memory of a transgender youth, Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide in December. It has received almost 121,000 signatures.

Empire State Pride started a petition three months ago, which supports the state’s anti-conversion therapy bills and so far has more than 11,000 signatures.  

When adults tell youth that their sexual orientation means they are “sick,” it leaves permanent damage, the opposite of the mental health profession’s aim, Assemblyman Stirpe said.

 “You try to do things that make people better, make them feel better, make them more productive,” he said. “I don’t see where this, in any way, does that.”