Accept the things you cannot change — the people as well

Laws are our society’s way of collectively stating our values. They distinguish right from wrong and, through the justice system, allow us to prosecute and punish those who do wrong.

We were a bit taken aback when we learned that the Albany County Legislature was considering a law that would ban “conversion therapy” for minors. We thought the need for such a law had long passed. We wondered: Isn’t this just grandstanding? After all, 17 years ago the practice was discredited in a report by the United States Surgeon General that stated “there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

Hadn’t attitudes progressed in a state that seven years ago legalized same-sex marriage? Didn’t citizens understand that sexual orientation is inborn and, further, that trans people as well as gays and lesbians are as normal as straight people? Who would consider “therapy” to change someone’s sexual orientation or identity?

Reporter H. Rose Schneider talked to the bill’s sponsor, Bryan Clenahan of Guilderland whom we’ve lauded before in this space for speaking out to guarantee that the county provides help for victims of rape and sexual assault. Clenahan cited a statistic from a 2015 report issued for the LGBT Community Center and the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network, which states that 10.5 percent of sexual minority youth aged 16 to 24 in the state have been subjected to “conversion therapy,” either through a counselor or religious figure.

Transgender or gender-nonconforming youth reported that they had been subjected at an even higher rate, of 14.2 percent. The same report also describes LGBT youth as being shamed or punished for gender expression, such as acting too masculine or too feminine.

Hate is not therapy.

Schneider interviewed a local man who does not identify as gay but who experiences what he describes as “same-sex attractions.” He said it was “destructive” when he was sexually active. “It is really not what sexuality is, what God meant it to be used for,” he said.

He argued that the county legislature is not knowledgeable enough to make a decision about what he described as psychology. “I feel so sad hearing about it,” he said of the proposed bill. “Conversion therapy” is a term that is “a tarbrush used to demonize people looking for help,” he said.

This man has chosen the course that is right for him and he is entitled to it.

But his views made us understand why the bill is needed. The law would apply to minors, to youth who are just discovering their sexuality and who are often greatly influenced by forces closest to them — like family and church. The law would not target unpaid efforts to change a person’s orientation such as through religious groups or parental pressure. Clenahan said it will still send a strong message, by fining practitioners, that efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation are wrong.

Schneider also interviewed Judd Krasher, who as a high school student in Berne, had endured taunts of “homo” and “faggot.” He was approached by two Evangelicals who offered “conversion therapy.” They told him that there was something wrong with him, he said, and that he would go through “trials and tribulations” in his life should he continue to be gay.

Krasher considered the “therapy” but decided against it. He saw what it did to some of his friends, saying they suffered the lasting psychological damage. “They made it clear that it was a daily ritual of guilt and shaming … ,” he said. “And for them, all it did was exacerbate feelings of guilt, feelings of low self-esteem.”

For a vulnerable young adult in a place where gay relationships weren’t accepted, Krasher said, “I could see how you would do anything to stop being gay.”

Krasher said he did not date in high school, due to his fear of verbal or physical retaliation. But he survived with the support of his mother and brother and his teachers at Berne-Knox-Westerlo. They told him being gay wasn’t something to be ashamed of.

Krasher says of the proposed county bill banning “conversion therapy” for minors, similar to one he backed on the Albany Common Council, “If it is explicitly banned, it becomes easier to expose it.” He likened the practice to child abuse.

So we support the bill — as a needed bare minimum. But we hope Albany County will do more.

Our podcast this week is with a woman, Genya Shimkin, who grew up in Albany County, in Delmar, and now lives in Seattle where she has started the Q Card Project.

Shimkin writes of her project, “As a result of cultural homophobia and stigma, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth are at increased risk for suicide, depression, bullying, and homelessness … Many LGBTQ youth report awkward or uncomfortable interactions with providers.”

She developed the Q Card (Q for “Queer” with a double meaning of “cue”), a tri-fold business card to empower LGBTQ youth and educate their health-care providers.

We urge the county to send for her cards and begin dispensing them. The study that Clenahan cited also reported that more than a quarter of LGBT respondents reported frequent mental distress and more than one in five screened positive for probable depression. Also, more than one in five respondents had no primary health-care provider.

Putting Q Cards in the hands of youth would be a small but powerful first step in helping them build  trust with a health-care provider that is needed for good health, both physical and mental.

It is not enough for government to pass a law on what not to do; it should lead the way in helping LGBTQ youths have better lives.

We like Shimkin’s life philosophy. She believes it is her duty to “look out for each other and to take care of each other.”

That is good advice for us all.

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