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Christie signs law barring ‘ex-gay’ conversion therapy

New Jersey becomes second state to bar widely discredited practice for minors

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Gov. Chris Christie is expected to sign into law legislation that would ban ex-gay conversion therapy for minors. (Photo by Bob Jagendorf via Wikimedia Commons)

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law on Monday banning “ex-gay” conversion for minors in New Jersey, which makes the state  the second in the country to have a such a statute in place.

Christie decided to sign the legislation on the last possible day after the legislature passed the bill before it would have become law anyway with or without his signature. News that Christie intended to sign the legislation was reported earlier in the day by the Associated Press.

The bill passed in the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority of 28-9; and in the Assembly with a bipartisan supermajority of 56-14. The lead sponsors were Assembly member Tim Eustace, who’s gay, and State Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

In a signing statement made public later on Monday, Christie said he was conflicted about signing the bill because of possible infringement upon parental choice, but still believe it was the right course of action.

“At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children,” Christie said. “I still have those concerns. Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly. I have scrutinized this piece of legislation with that concern in mind.”

The Republican governor added the mental health risks of attempting to change a child’s sexual orientation outweigh concerns over the government encroaching on parental choice.

“I also believe that on issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,” Christie said. “The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate. Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law.”

The statement accompanying the signing statement also says Christie believes people are born gay and that homosexuality isn’t a sin — a statement that is contrary to his Catholic faith.

Christie’s expected signature will make New Jersey to second state to ban “ex-gay” conversation therapy for minors. California became the first state after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed similar legislation into law in October. That law is being challenged by social conservatives in federal court in a lawsuit known as Pickup v. Brown. In January, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency injunction barring the California law from going into effect.

In a statement immediately after the news on Monday, the social conservative group known as the Liberty Counsel announced that it intends to challenge the New Jersey ban on conversation therapy in court as well.

Mat Staver, founder and president of the Liberty Counsel, said the law provides a “slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights” of counselors and therapists who want to provide counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.

“This bill is so broad that parents would be prohibited from seeking help for their son who developed unwanted same-sex attractions after being molested by the likes of Jerry Sandusky,” Staver added. “Counselors would only be allowed to affirm these unwanted feelings as good and normal. This is absurd and dangerous. This law would inflict serious damage to children, parents, and counselors.”

“Ex-gay” conversion is widely discredited and refuted by major mainstream psychological groups, such as American Psychological Association. In June, the largest ex-gay group, Exodus International, closed its doors after its executive director Alan Chambers issued an apology acknowledging “the pain and hurt others have experienced” through failed attempts at conversion therapy.

Troy Stevenson, executive director of New Jersey’s LGBT group Garden State Equality, commended Christie for signing the legislation, citing the harm “ex-gay” therapy can cause.

“There is no greater achievement than helping to stop the abuse of our youth,” Stevenson said. “Today’s SOCE ban will do just that. It will protect young people from being abused by those they should trust the most, their parents and their “doctors.”

But Stevenson took the opportunity of Christie’s planned signing of the bill to call on him to take further action and sign into law marriage equality legislation that has reached his desk.

“We hope that his realization, that there is nothing wrong with our LGBT youth – and that there is nothing about them that needs to be fixed – will lead to a further evolution,” Stevenson said. “It is our truest hope that the Governor will realize as the majority of the legislature and a super majority of the New Jersey public have realized, that the best way to ensure our LGBT youth are protected from the abuse of being ostracized, is to provide them with equality. We must provide all NJ youth with acceptance, with hope for the future and yes, the promise of the dignity to marry the person that they love.”

UPDATE: This article has been changed to include a statement from the Liberty Counsel and the signing statement that Christie made public later in the day.

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Queen calls for conversion therapy ban in UK

British government urged to move quickly to prohibit practice

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Queen Elizabeth II (Photo public domain)

 

Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday in a speech that marked the opening of Parliament called for a ban on so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales.

“Measures will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities and ban conversion therapy,” Elizabeth said. 

While this announcement forecasts a step forward in LGBTQ activism and a change in the culture surrounding LGBTQ acceptance in the U.K.; the queen’s statement was met with hesitation, especially with regards to the when and how the ban will be implemented. 

According to the U.K.’s public sector information website, the passing of legislation to implement the ban will be preceded by a consultation and a survey of public opinion to ensure that the ban can address conversion therapy while “protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom.”

“We welcome the commitment to introduce legislation to ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’,” commented Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall, one of the U.K.’s leading LGBTQ rights organizations. “However, the news of a consultation is concerning and will be hard for our communities to hear.”

“We don’t need a consultation to know that all practices that seek to convert, suppress, cure or change us are dangerous, abusive and must be banned,” Kelley further mentioned. “Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and ace communities have been waiting almost three years for the U.K. government to follow through on their promise to ban all conversion practices, and any delay leaves us at further risk of abuse.”

Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, also welcomed the queen’s announcement on the introduction of the new legislation, however, he expressed distaste at the “further delay, lack of clarity, and absence of a timetable for the ban.”

“The government has been promising this ban for nearly three years and still we don’t have it. All we’ve had is more than 1,000 days of dithering,” said Tatchell. “We have had countless studies and consultations. We don’t need any more. It’s time (Prime Minister) Boris (Johnson) got on with it and got this ban done.” 

“We need to see the proposed legislation,” Tatchell further proposed. “It must not allow religious exemptions. Faith bodies are the main proponents. The ban needs to be full and comprehensive and provide statutory support for victims and survivors.”

Similar sentiments have frequented social media platforms, with various LGBTQ individuals and allies criticizing the action plan to implement legislation that addresses conversion therapy.

“The U.K. government wants to consult the public before the ban, but we don’t need to consult before the banning,” Twitter user @jakepayne1994 tweeted. “There shouldn’t be consultation on torture and abuse. There should be a full ban on LGBT+ conversion therapy with no exceptions.”

“The government promised a blanket ban on gay conversion therapy years ago,” @ohkelliott tweeted. “Every waking second that goes by, people in the U.K. are undergoing torment, physical and psychological abuse, and vile life changing torture whilst the government are delaying its legislation.”

Calls to action for the British government to expedite the process of introducing the legislation have emerged and Tatchell mentions “the U.K. government must publish a comprehensive bill now, as well as a clear timeline for its implementation.” 

“As part of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, we will continue to hold the U.K. government to account on their promise to ban this abhorrent practice for good, everywhere it happens and to everyone it harms, and protect our communities from harm,” said Tatchell.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

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100th anniversary celebration of Dupont Circle fountain set for May 17

GWU student creates tribute video

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The iconic Dupont Circle fountain turns 100 this month. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ residents and longtime visitors to D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood are expected to be among the participants in the 100th anniversary celebration of the installation of the Dupont Circle fountain scheduled to be held at the circle on Monday, May 17.

Aaron DeNu, president of Dupont Festival, a nonprofit arts and cultural programming group that’s organizing the celebration, says it will take place from noon to at least sunset inside Dupont Circle.

The celebration will take place one week after the May 10 release of a YouTube video, “How Dupont Circle Evolved as a Hub for LGBTQ+ Life in the District,” produced by George Washington University student Dante Schulz. Schulz is the video editor for the G.W. student newspaper The Hatchet.

Among those appearing in the documentary video are veteran LGBTQ rights activists Deacon Maccubbin and his husband Jim Bennett, who owned and operated the Dupont Circle LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising beginning in the 1970s, which is credited with contributing to Dupont Circle’s reputation as the epicenter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community for many years.

Also appearing in the video is longtime D.C. gay activist and Dupont Circle area resident Craig Howell, a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“At this point in time due to COVID restrictions we’re not going to be doing any particular formal gathering of folks,” DeNu told the Washington Blade in describing the May 17 celebration. “But we’ll have a soundtrack that’s playing throughout the day from that original ceremony – the same songs they used in the original dedication a hundred years ago,” he said.

DeNu said the event will also feature “historic imagery” related to Dupont Circle and the people who have gathered there over the years.

“So, we’re really just inviting people to come and have lunch, stop by the park after work, and just stop and reflect on 100 years of Dupont Circle fountain, take a look at the imagery and see some old friends and hopefully stop by and see the Dupont businesses that are around the area,” DeNu said.

The LGBTQ video produced by Dante Schultz can be accessed here.

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