November 28, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Rep. Speier introduces resolution condemning ‘conversion’ therapy
Sheldon Bruck, JONAH, ex-gay, reparative therapy, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, SHOK, gay news, Washington Blade

Sheldon Bruck, who is gay, said he is a survivor of conversion therapy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution into the House of Representatives on Wednesday declaring that efforts by mental health practitioners to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression are “dangerous and harmful.”

“It is the sense of Congress that sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts directed at minors are discredited and ineffective, have no legitimate therapeutic purpose, and are dangerous and harmful,” the resolution states.

“Congress encourages each state to take steps to protect minors from efforts that promote or promise to change sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, based on the premise that homosexuality or transgender identity is a mental illness or developmental disorder that can or should be cured,” the resolution states.

Speier introduced her non-binding resolution one day after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in New Jersey on behalf of four gay men and two parents against a New Jersey based counseling group that performs conversion therapy. The lawsuit charges Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) with committing consumer fraud by falsely claiming the gay men could change their sexual orientation from gay to straight.

“Let’s get this straight,” Speier said at Capitol Hill news conference called to announce the introduction of her resolution. “Being gay, lesbian, transgender is not a disease that can be cured or a mental health issue that can be treated. Sadly, not everyone gets this,” she said.

“A quick Internet search will bring up some 80 practitioners and groups that promise to help individuals to become heterosexual,” she told the news conference. “Gay conversion has become a multimillion dollar industry.”

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Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Speier said she and her staff were investigating whether some of these practitioners and organizations, most of whom are unlicensed, were being paid to perform conversion therapy on patients who pay them through federal programs such as Medicaid or TRICARE, a federal medical program that assists military veterans.

“In my cursory investigation, I have found two additional instances of so-called mental health professionals that advertise these services and appear to be eligible for federal dollars,” she said. “This morning, I sent letters of inquiry to Medicaid and TRICARE to determine if these instances reflect systemic weaknesses that allow federal taxpayer dollars to go to harmful, illegitimate medical services.”

Also speaking at the news conference were Sheldon Bruck and Jerry Spencer, who described themselves as gay men and survivors of conversion therapy. Bruck and his mother are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed on t heir behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center against the New Jersey based JONAH group.

Spencer, 23, said his conservative Catholic parents pressured him into undergoing conversion therapy when he was 14 and the therapy lasted more than five years before he chose to end it.

“It was all a scam,” he said. But before he came to that realization, the therapy resulted in “deep emotional scars” both for him and his family.

“I’m telling my story to help others,” he said. “This industry preys on gay people and their families.”

Speier’s office said Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) signed on as co-sponsors for the resolution. Speier said she couldn’t immediately determine which House committee would be assigned to consider the resolution. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is gay, has said he doesn’t expect the Republican-controlled House will pass any LGBT supportive bills or resolutions over the next two years.

Representatives of the Human Rights Campaign, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights also spoke at the news conference.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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