Sponsors, Advocates Remain Hopeful on “Conversion Therapy” Ban

State Senator Brad Hoylman. | DONNA ACETO

With just two days remaining until the State Legislature in Albany adjourns its 2014 session, the lead Senate sponsor of a bill that would ban mental health professionals from engaging in “sexual orientation change efforts” with minors remains hopeful that the measure could win approval.

“The bill is definitely moving in the right direction,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay Manhattan Democrat.

The Empire State Pride Agenda's communications director, Allison Steinberg, agreed with Hoylman's assessment that the effort is advancing and voiced optimism that sufficient votes will be there to secure passage.

On June 16, the State Assembly, in an 86 to 28 vote, approved the bill, with the support of 10 Republicans.

On the Senate side, even with support of a majority of their colleagues, Hoylman and his fellow lead on the bill, Michael Gianaris of Queens, would have to persuade the leadership –– a coalition of Republicans and the five members of the Independent Democratic Conference –– to allow a vote.

One source familiar with the effort to enact the measure suggested that process is moving forward, saying that Senator Diane Savino, a Staten Island member of the IDC, “has been incredibly helpful.”

Savino’s office did not immediately respond to a query about her efforts on the bill or its prospects, but the Pride Agenda's said that “all members of the IDC have been supportive” of the effort to enact the bill.

Hoylman pointed to the public and behind the scenes support Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office is lending to the effort.

“The governor issued a strong statement of support yesterday and I am in touch with the governor's office,” he said.

In an email message, Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, said, “Gay conversion therapy is a discredited and outrageous practice that has no place in New York.”

In a release late in the evening of June 16, Nathan M. Schaefer, the Pride Agenda’s executive director, said, “This issue is nonpartisan; we’re all in agreement that harming LGBT youth is unacceptable and we must put an end to this damaging and discredited practice. We cannot let another day go by where our youngest New Yorkers are vulnerable to this avoidable harm.”

In a statement in which he praised Manhattan Democratic Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, the out lesbian sponsor of the SOCE legislation in that chamber, and Speaker Sheldon Silver, Hoylman sounded the same note as Schaefer.

“Banning conversion therapy is a nonpartisan issue that should receive full consideration by my colleagues in the Senate,” Hoylman said.

The Hoylman-Glick measure –– which is broader than its title suggests, also barring efforts to change a minor’s gender identity and expression –– is similar to legislation enacted in the past two years by California and New Jersey.

The California law, adopted first, faced two court challenges from SOCE practitioners on the grounds that it violated their free speech rights, but last August a federal appeals court upheld the statute, distinguishing between the rights practitioners enjoy to advocate for the practice in public debate and the limitations on the therapeutic practices they can employ in their professional conduct governed by state licensing.

Advocates emphasize that leading professional groups — including the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry — agree that SOCE, in treating homosexuality and gender nonconformity as mental illnesses in need of cure, actually increases mental health risks for young people in terms of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

In a June 17 action alert, the Pride Agenda launched a “Now is the Right Time to Do the Right Thing” campaign to push both the SOCE measure and the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) over the top.

“Both of these bills have the potential to save lives,” Schaefer said in that release.

GENDA, which would extend comprehensive nondiscrimination protections to transgender and other gender-nonconforming New Yorkers, won approval in the Assembly on June 10 –– for the seventh time.

Advocates and the Senate’s lead sponsor on GENDA, Lower Manhattan-Downtown Brooklyn Democrat Daniel Squadron, continue to press for a floor vote, with the senator saying that the Assembly action sent “yet another message to the Senate leadership that it is time to bring this bill to the floor for a vote.” However, he also recently told Gay City News, “I wish I could be optimistic” about its prospects for getting a vote.

The Pride Agenda’s Schaefer would not say definitively that the votes are there to pass GENDA, but insisted, “The transgender community has been working on this for more than a decade. They deserve a vote.”