TRENTON – A Senate committee on Monday approved legislation that would ban the use of therapeutic practices intended to change the sexual orientation of minors, so-called “conversion therapy.” The bill, S-2278, sponsored by Democrats Raymond Lesniak, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, won the support of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee with a vote of 7 – 1, with 2 abstentions.
“Conversion therapy not only has no basis in science, it has proven to be harmful to young people,” said Lesniak, the bill’s prime sponsor. “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 bill would prohibit professional counselors, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and social workers, from engaging in practices designed to change the sexual orientation of anyone under age 18. The legislation applies to licensed professionals and to children under 18 years of age, Lesniak noted, and violations of this prohibition would be enforced by the respective professional licensing boards under their rules and regulations.
“The impacts of this kind of so called ‘treatment,’ both short-term and long-term, can be absolutely devastating to those that have been forced into it,” said Sweeney. “This legislation is about protecting our children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these kids and this practice must come to an end immediately.”
New Jersey teen Jacob Rudolph, whose Change.org petition has amassed more than 110,000 signatures urging Gov. Chris Christie to support the pending legislation, testified before the committee in support of the bill.
“Perhaps the most cruel part of anti-gay conversion therapy is that these young people cannot even defend themselves from being subjected to this harmful practice,” said Rudolph, an 18-year-old senior at Parsippany High School, in his address to the New Jersey Senate Health Committee. “I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be ‘fixed.’”
A study by the American Psychological Association found that the so-called therapy of conversion practices can cause a wide range of harmful effects for young people, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, hostility and even suicidal tendencies. The American Psychiatric Association has stated that “the potential risks of reparative therapy are great” in its warning against its use for children.
“Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and it shouldn’t be treated that way,” said Weinberg. “These attempts to ‘convert’ young people with coercive techniques tells them there is something wrong with the way they are and who they are. That can have a terribly negative influence on them at a time when their growth and development makes them emotionally and psychologically vulnerable. They need love and understanding, not manipulative and destructive practices that can cause them harm.”
Recently, a group of young people subjected to conversion therapy filed a lawsuit against the counselors who conducted the so-called therapy. In the lawsuit, they described the treatment to include harsh ridicule, visits to bath houses, group nudity sessions and role playing where they are told to violently beat an effigy of their mothers.
“We aren’t telling parents how to raise their children with this bill, we are acting to protect young people from abuse,” said Lesniak. “If adults want to make the decision to undergo this process, they can. But minors don’t have the same free choice.”