In a landmark ruling, New Jersey becomes the second State in the country to pass a bill forbidding licensed therapists from offering conversion therapy for Lesbian and Gay youth. This ruling follows, not quite on the heels of but pretty close to, the governor’s decision last year to veto a bill allowing same sex marriage in the Garden State. New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, had been rather vocal about his views on marriage equality in his State, as well as the rest of the Country when he condemned the overturn of DOMA, United States’ restrictive Defense of Marriage Act. In a sudden, unexpected change-of-heart move, Christie reportedly stated that “people’s sexual preference (his term) is not a choice but a trait they are born with.” He even went on to say that, although his Roman Catholic faith adheres to the belief that homosexuality is a sin, he does not agree.
Now what, you might ask, could have caused this radical shift in the governor’s points of view on this controversial subject? Suspicious minds have suggested that Mr. Christie may not be following his heart as much as he is his political aspirations. Although he has repeatedly denied plans to seek the Republican candidacy in the 2016 race for president, is it possible he’s had a similar reversal in that regard? Well, we’ll soon find out, won’t we?
So, back to the ban. Notice that the law prohibits “licensed” therapists from using their psychological skills to try to make gay kids straight. Unfortunately, there remains the danger of parents who may continue to seek other, non-licensed individuals who claim that they can “cure” homosexuality. Consider the Ex-Gay movement which, though waning in popularity, still exists in some regressive societal niches. Mind you, adults have also engaged these outlaw therapists (my term) in an effort to “switch.” Despite the American Psychological Association’s admonishment and warnings of the threat of “severe psychological trauma” caused by the ministrations of those who offer the promise of a so-called “normal” sexual orientation, these conversion therapies continue. Of course, adults have every right to seek the services of someone who holds in front of them the prospect of a more socially acceptable way of life. It’s their money, after all. And it’s their lives and their mental health which they are putting at risk.
But, wait. Aren’t there laws which prohibit professionals from making promises that they just can’t deliver? At least not according to the standards of their professions. So, why is it taking so long for the law to extend this determination to mental health professions? Maybe it’s because that’s what society, a good portion of it anyway, wants. A cure for one of society’s conceived ills at the risk of the individual’s well-being. OK, here’s the deal: Minor’s don’t always have that option. It’s not their money and not their decision. Their parents are the decision makers. Even Gov. Christie said that he still believes that the government shouldn’t interfere with parents’ choices for their own children. The courts have long been involved in some parents’ decisions regarding their kids, especially when it clearly puts the child in imminent danger. This law appears to be heading off those drawn-out and expensive legal battles which often lead to disaster before any court can decide what’s in the best interest of the child. Let’s hope that it does.
One of the largest and most well-known organizations, Exodus International, has folded, albeit only temporarily. Their most recent president has apologized for “any harm our efforts may have caused.” However, other high-ranking members of the group claim that they plan to re-boot. Many conservative religious leaders are decrying the efforts of some progressive activists to thwart their measures. Conversion, or “reparative therapy’ as it’s commonly called, frequently uses antiquated and archaic methods such as aversion therapy to attempt to change sexual orientation. Simply put, a negative stimulus is paired with the unwanted behavior to form an association of pain, discomfort or disagreeable reactions to the behavior. This is not new. It has been used for centuries to try to stop people from acting on their desires or impulses. Electric shocks, nausea-producing agents and destructive images are some commonly-used negative stimuli. Warnings of social stigmatization, shunning from acceptance or participation in activities with family members and peers and eternal damnation are promised consequences by some religious-based organizations prescribing reparative therapy. Two of those three warnings are very real and often realized by the targets of the movement. Anyone who wishes to know more about these and other tactics which can potentially devastate the unfortunate children, as well as the desperate adults they’ve been used on should search for the writings of a friend and colleague, Dr. Jallen Rix, based in San Francisco, California (which, by-the-way, was the first U.S. State to ban this type of assault on children). His well-written and thoughtful book, Ex Gay No Way delves into the real-life experiences that he, and others whom he interviewed, endured while undergoing the tortuous form of attempted conversion from gay to straight. Rather than trying to force our more vulnerable youth to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we should be looking for ways to offer them our support and unconditional acceptance.