Earlier today, the New York Senate held a public forum on legislation barring so-called "ex-gay conversion therapy" for minors. Present for New York State were Senators Brad Hoylman and Michael Gianaris, as well Assembly member Deborah Glick. The forum was divided into eight panels, which included an elected official, mental health professionals, members of the clergy, legal experts, and advocates. But the panel that was largest in number and and most filled with passion consisted of those sharing their personal stories.
Featured panelists included Mathew Shurka, Mordechai Levovitz, and Jacob Rudolph--young men with whom GLAAD has worked on numerous issues regarding youth, religion, and making their voices heard.
Mathew Shurka testified first as someone who tried conversion therapy for years and has since accepted himself as a proud gay man. Shurka came out to his father when he was 16 years old and his family had him attend gay conversion therapy for the next five years. During that time, he saw four separate conversion therapists. Shurka said he believed his father just wanted the best for him, but that the family didn't have enough information about conversion practices or sexual orientation to know what to do. Under his therapists' direction, Shurka took many drastic measures he thought would make his conversion happen more quickly and effectively. This included not talking to females, including his sister and mother, for three years, and exhibiting behaviors to be perceived as stereotypically "manly." Shurka recounted in his testimony that the basis of his therapy relied on the idea that his "homosexual tendencies" were related to nurture instead of nature, and that something traumatic must have happened to him to make him feel this way. Additionally, the common theme among each of his therapists was that Mathew's homosexuality was "reversible." The suppression of his true identity by those around him at such an impressionable age led to depression, suicidal ideations, and poor school performance, among other negative effects. Ultimately, when Shurka was old enough to make his own decisions and realized that the therapy was futile, he took it upon himself to embrace who he was as a person and a son, which allowed him to step before the Senate and enlighten us today.
Second to speak was Mordechai Levovitz, an openly gay man who comes from a very traditional, Orthodox Jewish family. He attended conversion therapy during his youth, as it was enforced by his parents, where he said licensed doctors made him feel like something was wrong with him, feel deeply shameful. Levovitz was diagnosed by his doctors as "pre-homosexual," a label that suggested he still had time to be "fixed." He found solace when he joined a community group that supports LGBT Jews and their families in the Orthodox community. There, he met other kids who were threatened by their families to attend conversion therapy sessions or there would be consequences. After receiving much therapy and realizing that it wasn't going to work, Levovitch blamed himself, as it was engrained in his mind the only way he could be happy and successful was to become straight. Eventually, he found a way to simultaneously embrace his identities as a gay man and a devoted person of faith. Levovitz now serves as Co-Executive Director of JQY, a support group similar in mission to the one he joined as a kid. His story was one of many that touched the hearts of the crowd sitting before the Senate this morning.
Two others who shared their personal stories about their experiences with gay conversion therapy were Dean Dafis and Ryan Kendall. They spoke of their efforts to subdue their sexualities, which included weekly visits to church confessionals, acting "masculine," and even enduring aversive conditioning in the form of shock treatment. Though these two men, as well as Shurka and Levoviz, all testified today because they eventually found peace with themselves and their identities, the conversion therapy they experienced left a lasting mark on them. Though they no longer believe what they were told by these doctors, each account proves this so-called therapy is scarring, psychologically damaging, and emotionally exhausting. This is especially harmful to impressionable youths. GLAAD's PR and Communications intern Jacob Rudolph testified that after a video of his coming out speech went viral, he was contacted by hundreds of youths. Five of those people, he said, were suicidal at the time, and three of them had undergone conversion therapy.
Rudolph emphasized that the practice at hand is not therapy, but child abuse. Other panelists agreed, saying they stayed in "therapy" for years, much like how victims of abuse continuously return to relationships with their abusers. Assemblywoman Glick noted that what a number of the panelists were describing, such as electro shock practices, actually fell under the category of torture. Additionally, Senator Gianaris explained that the government has an obligation to protect its citizens—especially minors—against harmful practices, countering the argument that this bill would infringe on parents' or doctors' rights.
In addition to these personal stories, we heard from several mental health professionals, including Dr. Dinelia Rosa of NYS Psychological Association, Dr. Jack Drescher of NYS Psychiatric Association and Dr. Andrew Livanis of NY Association of School Psychologists. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM as an "illness" in 1973, they noted, and the fact that conversion or reparative therapy still exists is preposterous. No studies or adequate scientific evidence exists to prove such practices are effective or positive.
Those opposed to the bill said that there is nothing wrong with a child seeking psychiatric help if they are being "bothered" or "harassed" by being gay. In response, Assemblywoman Glick commented that it's not usually the child who's bothered, but rather the parents, and that minors are unable to consent to receive these treatments, which effect them into adulthood. Senator Gianaris equated conversion therapy to other practices we now consider antiquated and counterproductive, such as the medical use of leeches or the hunting of witches.
And that's exactly what conversion therapy is--an outdated mode of power and control by rogue "professionals" who wish to conceal children's true identities at all costs; a practice that needs to end now.