- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In the latest attack on therapies aimed at helping gay patients who want to become heterosexual, a congresswoman from California said Wednesday that she was introducing a resolution calling on Congress to denounce the practice.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat, is proposing the resolution as two lawsuits move through federal court challenging a new California law to ban minors from receiving “sexual-orientation change efforts” under any circumstance.

In a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday, Ms. Speier said she was introducing her Stop Harming Our Kids resolution to “bring us some reality checks” about sexuality.

“Let’s get this straight,” she said. “Being gay, lesbian [or] transgender is not a disease to be cured or a mental health issue to be treated.”

Therapies aimed at helping someone go from gay to straight are “discredited” and “ineffective,” and minors should not be subjected to them, she said.

She added that she will investigate whether taxpayer funds in Medicaid or Tricare, the Pentagon’s health care system, have been used to reimburse therapists offering such counseling.

Practitioners of so-called “sexual reparative therapies” defend the practice, as do some conservative religious organizations, saying efforts to curb their work violate their right to freedom of religion and speech. Many of the most invasive practices once employed have been stopped, they say, and they argue that a blanket ban will hurt young people who want to fight homosexual feelings on religious or moral grounds and will only lead to more unregulated efforts.

Ms. Speier was joined by two people who said they underwent “gay conversion quackery” and advocates for groups that oppose such therapies, including the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“I’m telling my story to put an end to this sham,” said Jerry Spencer, 23.

He said he was forced by his conservative Catholic parents to undergo conversion therapy from age 14 to almost 20.

The therapy, which he said was like torture at times, didn’t work because “being gay is simply who we are.”

Sheldon Bruck said he underwent therapy for several weeks at Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing to escape his same-sex attractions. Instead, he said, the therapy led him to depression, anxiety and estrangement from his family, especially his mother.

Mr. Bruck is one of six plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in New Jersey against the program. The complaint, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and colleagues, alleges that officials at the organization engaged in consumer fraud by charging people for deceptive, false and fraudulent conversion-therapy services.

In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed first-in-the-nation legislation to prevent minors from receiving sexual-orientation change therapy even if the children or their parents want it.

In his signing statement, Mr. Brown said the therapies “have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

Gay rights groups such as Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights co-sponsored the California legislation, which forbids minors from receiving counseling that attempts to “change behaviors, or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

However, groups that provide sexual-orientation change efforts, teenage clients and people who say they have successfully changed their sexual orientations to become heterosexual are challenging the California law. Two lawsuits have been filed to block the law from taking effect Jan. 1.

“This law places the state between the client and the counselor,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which is representing the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Association for Christian Counselors, as well as several parents and teens who want to continue sexual-orientation change therapy.

A second lawsuit was filed by the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of a clergyman who also is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a psychiatrist, and a successful former patient of sexual-orientation change efforts. They say the law imposes “sweeping new restrictions on communication between mental health professionals and their patients” and “invades family privacy, freedom of religion, and speech.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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