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Conservative group files lawsuit against N.J. ‘ex-gay’ therapy ban

Complaint argues Christie’s law violates freedoms of speech and religion

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Mat Staver, Liberty Council, gay news, Washington Blade
Mat Staver, Liberty Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver has filed a lawsuit against New Jersey’s ban on “ex-gay” conversion therapy (Photo by Gage Skidmore).

A socially conservative group on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Jersey that seeks to overturn the state’s ban on widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy that Gov. Chris Christie signed into law this week.

The Liberty Counsel filed the 46-page complaint before the U.S. District Court of New Jersey against Christie, who signed a law on Monday barring sexual orientation conversation therapy for minors within his state, as well as other state officials.

The lawsuit alleges the law violates freedoms of speech and religion under the U.S. and New Jersey Constitutions. Additionally, the lawsuit contends the law violates parental rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The group filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Christian counselors who practice sexual orientation conversion therapy and two fringe psychological groups that have endorsed it: the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, and the American Association of Christian Counselors.

“This law went into full effect immediately, upon being signed by Governor Christie on August 19, 2013, and thus time is of the essence to obtain judicial relief because plaintiffs, their clients, and the members of the plaintiff associations are currently suffering immediate and irreparable injury to their most cherished constitutional liberties,” the filing states.

Mat Staver, founder and chair of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement on the day the lawsuit was filed that the law is “a tyrannical overreach of government authority.”

“With this law, parents may face Child Protective Services investigating their home and even law enforcement taking their children if they seek change therapy,” he said said.

“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.

Still, plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend its effective. One of the plaintiff counselors, Tara King, identified as a lesbian and was in a same-sex relationship between the ages of 19 and 23. But after attending ex-gay conversion therapy at Exodus International, she, according to the complaint, left “the homosexual lifestyle 23 years ago and has experienced the change and reform that her Christian faith has brought into her life.”

King, who holds a Masters Degree in Christian counseling from Liberty University, in 2000 founded the King of Hearts Counseling Center in Brick, N.J., — a counseling center that focuses on counseling from a Biblical perspective.

The other plaintiff counselor in the lawsuit is Ronald Newman, a licensed psychiatrist who obtained advanced degrees in psychology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In 1998, Newman founded the Christian Counseling Consortium of South Jersey, which had engaged in providing ex-gay conversion therapy to minors.

The complaint adds that some of the individuals who decided to stop conversion counseling therapy with Newman “still benefitted from the counseling sessions despite deciding that their same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity were not unwanted.”

“Newman and his patients are suffering and, absent injunctive relief, will continue to suffer irreparable harm as a result of A3371,” the lawsuit states. “By prohibiting minors from receiving SOCE counseling, A3371 has made a portion of Dr. Newman’s practice illegal and unethical.”

Liberty Counsel seeks a preliminary injunction enjoining the Christie administration and other state officials from enforcing the law, a permanent injunctions to the same effect, a declaratory judgment rendering the law unconstitutional, as well as nominal damages and compensation for court costs.

Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, which has spoken out about “ex-gay” therapy and its dangers, criticized the lawsuit as a waste of time for the judicial system.

“The Liberty Counsel has filed a frivolous lawsuit that confuses religious liberty with license to abuse LGBT youth,” Besen said. “The claim is without merit, relies on perpetuating junk science, and is in defense of a fraudulent product. With evidence and facts on our side, the Liberty Counsel is wasting time and money — similar to the clients of ex-gay therapists.”

Still, Liberty Counsel has achieved at least temporary success with filed a similar lawsuit known as Pickup v. Brown against the ex-gay therapy in ban in California. In January, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency injunction barring the California law from going into effect.

Christie’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the lawsuit.

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Delaware

AIDS Walk Delaware to be held in Wilmington, Rehoboth

Events will raise money for HIV testing, treatment

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This year’s AIDS Walk Delaware will be held Sept. 17 in two locations: Brandywine Park in Wilmington, and Grove Park in Rehoboth Beach. The annual event seeks to promote awareness surrounding HIV and raise money for HIV testing, management, and education programming through the state.

Hosted by AIDS Delaware and the Delaware HIV Consortium, AIDS Walk Delaware is the oldest and largest HIV fundraiser in the state, drawing more than 600 attendees in previous years, according to an Aug. 9 press release. The theme of this year’s walk is “Step Up, Step Out: Remove Stigma, Eliminate HIV, Improve Lives.”

Check-in will begin in each park at 9 a.m. with walks beginning at both locations at 10 a.m. Registration for the event is free, and those who raise $30 or more will receive a complimentary commemorative T-shirt.

In the press release, John Beckley, director of development and marketing for AIDS Delaware, noted that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected those living with HIV, who might have especially vulnerable immune systems.

“Many are struggling with isolation, depression and anxiety,” Buckley said in a statement. “This year, we walk with those folks in our hearts.”

“AIDS Walk Delaware is more important than ever,” the press release continued. “It is more important for people who have lived with compromised health for a long time. People who have just learned they are HIV-positive. People who love someone who is HIV-positive. People for whom the best and broadest prevention efforts still elude them.”

Those interested in participating in the walk, making a donation, or learning more can visit aidswalkdelaware.org for more information.

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Latin America

Brazil police call for Bolsonaro to face charges over false COVID-19 claims

Country’s president claimed vaccines increase AIDS risk.

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Anti-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro flyers on Paulista Avenue in São Paulo, on March 13, 2022. Federal prosecutors have asked for Bolsonaro to be charged with incitement over his false COVID-19 claims that include an assertion that people who are vaccinated are at increased risk for AIDS. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Federal police in Brazil have called for prosecutors to charge President Jair Bolsonaro with incitement for spreading false information about COVID-19.

O Globo, a Brazilian newspaper, on Wednesday reported a Federal Police investigator in a letter to the Federal Supreme Court specifically cited Bolsonaro’s claim that people who receive a COVID-19 vaccine are at increased risk for AIDS. 

Bolsonaro made the comment on Oct. 21, 2021, during a live social media broadcast. Several HIV/AIDS service providers and LGBTQ and intersex activists with whom the Washington Blade spoke in March while reporting from Brazil noted it.

O Globo reports Bolsonaro could face up to six months in prison if convicted of incitement.

The first round of Brazil’s presidential election will take place on Oct. 2.

Bolsonaro — a former Brazilian Army captain who represented Rio de Janeiro in the country’s Congress from 1991-2018 — is running against former President President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro has been widely criticized over his rhetoric against LGBTQ and intersex Brazilians, women and other underrepresented groups in the country. Bolsonaro has also faced criticism for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his stance towards people with HIV/AIDS, among other things.

Polls indicate Da Silva, who is a member of Brazil’s Workers’ Party, is ahead of Bolsonaro. The incumbent president has sought to discredit Brazil’s electoral system amid growing concerns that violence could erupt if he does not accept the election results if he loses.

“I do believe it is extremely important to create a medicine to stop this man,” Mariah Rafaela Silva, a transgender woman of indigenous descent who works with the Washington-based International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, told the Blade on Thursday after news that federal prosecutors have called for Bolsonaro’s indictment.

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Massachusetts

Boston Children’s Hospital targeted by violent anti-LGBTQ threats

‘We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms’

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(Screenshot/YouTube WBZ)

Anti-LGBTQ far right extremists are targeting Boston Children’s Hospital, threatening its employees and medical staff after falsehoods and disinformation spread online recently about the healthcare facility’s treatment of transgender youth.

In a statement posted online, a spokesperson for Boston Children’s Hospital wrote: “In response to commentary last week critical of our Gender Multispeciality Service (GeMS) Program, Boston Children’s Hospital has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails including threats of violence on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”

The statement notes that the false information, with special attention being cast on the lies that Boston Children’s Hospital was performing hysterectomies (transgender care related) on minors. The age of consent for that gender-affirming procedure is 18.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narratives upon which they are based,” the hospital continued. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and the broader Boston Children’s Hospital community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”

Journalist Martha Bebinger with WBUR,  Boston’s NPR news station, noted the campaign started last week with criticism of a video posted on the hospital’s website about hysterectomies. Several conservative social media accounts shared posts about the video on Twitter. The hospital performs hysterectomies on patients 18 and older, but not on children as some of the posts claimed.

The social media account Libs of TikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely linked LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims. One allegation included the lie about Boston Children’s Hospital offering gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under 18 years old.

Surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital have said they would consider performing other procedures, including phalloplasty, or penis construction, on 17-year-old male trans patients. But hospital staff say that hasn’t happened because no 17-year-old has met the required legal and other criteria.

Conservative journalist and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo, who has helped incite white Christian nationalist right-wing uproar over the critical race theory being taught in the nations’ secondary schools and also fabricated a story that queer theory was also being taught to kindergarteners up through high school, took aim at Boston Children’s Hospital in a tweet Wednesday.

Then adding to the far-right extremist pile-on, Media Matters for America reported Wednesday that anti-trans pundit Matt Walsh also attacked the hospital.

Christina Buttons, a Nashville-based radical anti-LGBTQ far-right journalist for the Canadian anti-LGBTQ conservative publication, the Post Millennial, which features other transphobic writers, attacked NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny on Twitter over her reporting on Boston Children’s Hospital.

A spokesperson for Twitter told the Washington Blade Wednesday afternoon that the company support team was looking into the reports of harassment.

Zadrozny reported: Anti-trans activists also targeted the individual doctors who appeared in the YouTube videos from Boston Children’s Hospital, leaving vulgar and harassing comments on their social media accounts and flooding their online pages with negative reviews. Some hospital staff have since made their social media profiles private.

This isn’t the first time that far-right activists have targeted doctors and medical institutions — or even Boston Children’s Hospital.

Lee Leveille, co-director of Health Liberation Now, a trans rights advocacy group that investigates the effects of policy on trans health, said the hospital was also a target in May 2021 for providing gender-affirming care amid a similar wave of targeted harassment on medical facilities.

“The original organized network that jump started the clinic protests has been slowing down a bit and is more decentralized,” Leveille said over email. “Local pockets will still operate here and there, but they’re less connected to a central organized push than the original ones. Now we’re seeing new faces rallying the cause — including the likes of Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok.”

A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department said the department is aware of the threats and is working with hospital staff.

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