By Dane Feldman
Photo courtesy of Daniel Tobias.
What began as a public coming out at Parsippany High School in New Jersey is now fueling change in the state and across the country. More impressively it has garnered the attention of Gov. Chris Christie.
In February, Jacob Rudolph, a senior at Parsippany High School, posted a video of himself coming out to his classmates alongside a petition to Christie on Change.org asking that gay conversion therapy be banned. The petition against “dangerous anti-gay conversion therapy” now has well over 100,000 signatures and counting.
It is unclear just how long gay conversion therapy has been around, but it did peak in the 1960s when psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Charles W. Socarides went public with his statements that “homosexuality is in fact a mental illness which has reached epidemiological proportions” and that it could be cured.
According to the New York Times, “Dr. Socarides maintained his position long after the American Psychiatric Association rescinded its definition of homosexuality as a form of mental illness in 1973.” From this point onward it was no longer acceptable to treat homosexuality as an illness, yet gay conversion therapy continued on and nearly 20 years later the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, was founded in part by Socarides in 1992.
Last December, California passed a bill that would have banned gay conversion therapy effective Jan. 1, 2013, but the bill was blocked later that same month, after therapists “won an emergency order from a federal appeals court in San Francisco.” These therapists argue that the ban interferes with the First Amendment because it would keep children under 18 from receiving conversion therapy even if they wish to do so. Others, like Rudolph, feel as though the practice of conversion therapy is so harmful to defenseless teens that it is practically child abuse. NJ.com states that “[Conversion therapy has] been condemned by the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association.” Meanwhile, the block in California is still in effect.
Since Jacob Rudolph testified before the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee and stated that “our government has an obligation to prohibit the fraudulent and cruel and unusual practice of conversion therapy from being imposed on minors.” According to ThinkProgress.org, the committee members voted to advance the bill against gay conversion therapy.
It should come as no surprise that these advancements are being made in the wake of the two-day Supreme Court marriage equality debates that occurred in March. Leading up to the Supreme Court’s arguments, momentum for LGBT rights had been snowballing. Rudolph made headlines with his petition and his testimony and Huffington Post reports that even Republican Gov. Christie has stated that he opposes conversion therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts as some say.
Although many still claim homosexuality is a choice, efforts to improve gay rights are becoming more and more popular. In March, around the same time that Rudolph’s campaign took off, two students in Alabama started a petition on Change.org to repeal a 1992 state law that “requires sexual education teachers to emphasize ‘homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.’” The students mention that often, gay teens are sent to conversion therapy by their parents and that Alabama is statistically worse than most states at accepting members of the LGBT community. Their petition now has nearly 100,000 signatures.
As a response to the public outcry revolving around gay conversion therapy, Dr. Socarides’ son published a piece in the New Yorker on April 9 regarding his own struggles. Richard Socarides, Dr. Socarides son, is gay. He was White House Special Assistant and Senior Adviser during the Clinton Administration and he is a leading advocate in the gay rights movement. Socarides discusses the fact that he came out to his father, who continued to practice gay conversion therapy, but didn’t try to force his son into therapy regardless.
NARTH argues in favor of the myth that parents can prevent homosexuality by avoiding family problems during childhood. Richard Socarides says, “his [father’s] professional reputation became interconnected with a theory that was, over time, wholly discredited.” Thankfully for Mr. Socarides, acceptance and advocacy have now largely taken the place of beliefs that homosexuality is a mental illness.
Amidst all this controversy and publicity, Washington appears to be sliding under the radar. Last week, representatives came together in support of the gay conversion therapy ban and are quickly pushing a bill to pass a statewide ban. No one came to the hearing to oppose the bill.
Perhaps, in time, more states will follow suit.