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Leave Those Kids Alone

Albany Common Councliman offers legislation to ban “conversion therapy,” which typically targets emotionally vulnerable gay youth

by Natasha Scully on February 27, 2014 · 2 comments

 

After Judd Krasher came out of the closet at 18, while still a senior in high school, adults began to approach the young man, telling him “there are ways that we can fix you.”

Vulnerable, confused and feeling “a great deal of guilt,” Krasher admitted that these overtures made an impression on him.

Now, seven years after being lured into what is known as “conversion therapy,” Krasher, an Albany Common Councilman, is proposing an ordinance that would ban the practice of conversion therapy in the city.

Krasher, councilman of the 11th ward, said that no child should be subjected to the “therapy” he endured at 18. Looking back, he said, “I wasn’t in a mind-set to know that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. So I sat through a couple of sessions, if that’s what you want to call them. They were pretty horrible. I left these sessions feeling worse them I did going into them.”

Acey A. Mercer, a psychotherapist and senior consultant at Choices Counseling & Consulting in Albany, is not surprised by how Krasher felt after his “therapy.” “For anyone struggling or feeling vulnerable about their sexual orientation, being met with acceptance can be an incredible relief,” said Mercer. “Research shows that individuals met with more positive responses regarding their identity are less likely to experience depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, homelessness, etc. Having the space to safely discuss one’s feelings and/or confusion in relation to their identity is essential to their overall welfare.”

Krasher attended only a few of these sessions and was able to find the support of his family, and positive responses regarding his identity. But there are other confused and vulnerable young people who fall victim to what experts say are the dangerous effects of conversion therapy. According a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association, conversion therapy can lead to “loss of sexual feeling, depression, suicidality and anxiety.”

Despite the language used by a number of religious groups advocating the “curing” of homosexuality as if it were a mental illness, no such language appears in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, which defines all professionally acknowledged mental disorders.

That has not stopped many religious organizations, community members, churches, and some licensed practitioners from advocating or practicing conversion therapy. And Krasher is not the only one demanding the practice be banned.

Last April, openly gay state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and openly lesbian Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill calling for any mental-health-care provider found to have used conversion therapy on a minor to be cited for professional misconduct and face licensing sanctions. With little public attention, the bill collected dust, not making its way into either house. Hoylman and Glick, along with Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), reintroduced the bill as soon as both houses reconvened in January. Two months into the year, the bill has yet to move from the Higher Education Committee where it stayed last year to die. This year, however, conversion therapy may be gaining more attention due, in part, to the Krasher ordinance.

“It has to go through the committee process,” Krasher said. “The other members of the council will provide input, and some things may be changed or altered or omitted or added, but as it is right now the penalty [for anyone caught practicing conversion therapy] is a misdemeanor and the fine is $500 or 15 days in jail.”

Krasher hopes with his push at the city level, the state will be more inclined to act on Hoylman’s bill.

“Part of my motivation for doing this is to really get the conversation going about conversion therapy, because I don’t think a lot of people even know it exists,” said Krasher.

Supporters of conversion therapy insist that people are not born homosexual, and that the decision to define themselves that way—if not an outright lifestyle “choice”—may have to do with imbalances in their home lives as children.

“There are many different potential factors that can cause someone to start thinking they may be homosexual,” said a source from a counseling agency who declined to be identified. “If he doesn’t have a close relationship with his father or feel daddy’s not a good role model, [that] could be one factor. A second factor could be . . . he may be too close or amassed with his mother. If someone is dealing with what we call a detachment from the father figure, that may also involve being detached from other boys as a kid growing up. He didn’t feel like one of the boys, he felt more like one of the girls.”

Arlene Istar Lev of Choices, a social worker, family therapist, educator, and writer whose work addresses the therapeutic needs of LGBT people, countered, “Theories about homosexuality being caused by “weak fathers” and “strong mothers” were discounted decades ago. It is based on sexism (there are correct ways for men and women to be) and heterosexism (all children should have two opposite-sex parents who exhibit traditional gender roles). . . . For every feminine nelly queen, this is a masculine stud who is just a queer. Although there are certainly handsome butch women, there are also lipstick lesbians. Queer folks are born to all kinds of families, traditional heterosexual couples, single parents, and queer parents. Gender and sexuality are not taught in families; they are supported or negated.”

Curran Streett, executive director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, added: “It’s not a lack of self-confidence, it’s not an environment issue from their upbringing or their home life, it’s a fundamental and intrinsic experience that is not mutable and it’s not something that willing or praying or wishing that it will go away will change it. And that’s been seen with many of the ambassadors of the conversion-therapy community who have subsequently come out as having faked their conversion and living happier lives as gay or lesbian people recovering from the conversion therapy.”

“The APA has made strong statements challenging conversion therapy,” said Acey Mercer of Choices. “In my professional opinion, it is not therapeutic treatment, rather it is an ethically questionable intervention that operates from means that are a detriment to the mental health of clients. As a psychotherapist, I see it as my professional responsibility to meet clients where they are and to support them in their self-exploration, not purposefully direct or dictate how they should or should not be in the world.”

“I look at it [practicing conversion therapy] as not just professional misconduct, but child abuse,” Krasher concluded. “From everything that is out there in scientific literature, conversion therapy is just another version of child abuse, and a pretty horrific version at that.”