Metro Weekly

Congresswoman Introduces Resolution Against “Ex-Gay” Therapy

Jackie Speier.JPG

Following a series of challenges to “ex-gay” reparative therapy practices across the country, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.) introduced a resolution this morning urging Congress to condemn what has been characterized as junk science by the mainstream medical community.

At her Nov. 28 press conference on Capitol Hill, Speier announced the resolution, calling on states to follow California’s lead, which recently outlawed so-called conversion therapy for minors at the hands of licensed therapists. Titled “Stop Harming Our Kids” (SHOK), the resolution seeks to protect minors from “these snake-oil salesmen” who attempt to alter sexual orientation or gender identity.

The resolution states 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.” Largely symbolic in nature, the resolution will face a committee vote, but could go straight to the floor of the House of Representatives if there is a suspension of the rules calling for a vote.

“Gay conversion has become a multimillion dollar industry,” Speier said. “So called therapists around the country prey on fearful parents who are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to make their children conform to heterosexual norms and expectations.”

Speier also said she has begun to investigate whether federal funds have gone toward the practice of conversion therapy in the form of Medicaid and TRICARE. 

“We all know that Marcus Bachmann received nearly $140,000 in annual Medicaid payments for his clinic. But who else has?” Speier asked, invoking the husband of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Despite reports to the contrary, Marcus Bachmann, a licensed therapist, has denied his clinic engages in “pray away the gay”type therapy.

According to Speier, her cursory investigation has already found two instances where conversion therapists appear eligible for federal dollars, including a licensed counselor in Keller, Texas, and a social worker in Bloomingdale, Ill. This morning, Speier also sent letters to Medicaid and TRICARE to inquire whether those instances “reflect systemic weaknesses that allow federal tax dollars to go to harmful, illegitimate medical practices.” 

Speier, who encouraged former conversion therapy patients across the country to contact her office, was joined by several activists at the press conference, including representatives from the Human Rights Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. 

Two gay men who were described as “survivors” of conversion therapy also attended the press conference, including Sheldon Bruck, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed yesterday in New Jersey against Jews Offering New Alternative for Healing (JONAH).

Bruck, who grew up in a highly religious Orthodox Jewish family, paid for conversion therapy that he says caused psychological harm and alienated him from his family.

“In conversion therapy I was told that I was sick. I was told that I needed to be fixed. I was told I had to snap myself with a rubber band every time I had a same-sex attraction,” Bruck said, adding that his sexual orientation was blamed on his close relationship with his mother.

SPLC is among those representing Bruck and three other former patients and two of their mothers in the suit against JONAH. Filed in New Jersey’s Superior Court Nov. 27, the plaintiffs argue that by claiming to be able to “cure” gay people of their homosexuality, JONAH violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. Although neither JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg nor his “life coaches” are licensed therapists, as a company that based its product on what they described as scientific fact, the plaintiffs argue JONAH committed fraud. Indeed, many medical and psychiatric organizations have deemed conversion therapy to be ineffective and harmful.

Although California recently banned conversion therapy for youth administered by licensed therapists, the ban does not affect unlicensed therapists. The lawsuit against JONAH appears to be an attempt to target unlicensed therapists who are not subject to censure by medical associations. 

“As it relates to anything that is put in the marketplace, whether it be goods or services, there’s an expectation from the American public that it is safe and effective,” Speier said, adding that it is important to shine a spotlight on services where there is the potential for fraud.

[Photo: Rep. Jackie Speier speaks to reporters at Wednesday’s press conference (Credit: Justin Snow).]

READ the full resolution here:

SHOK Speier Resolution

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.