County reps hears supporters, dissidents of gay “conversion therapy” ban

John Nicholas

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Of “a different age,” John Nicholas, of Latham, speaks out against a proposed ban of “conversion therapy” for minors in Albany County, citing religious freedom.

ALBANY COUNTY — The Albany County Legislature heard from many supporters and one opponent of a bill that would ban so-called “conversion therapy” for minors in the county. Speakers included a social worker, psychiatrist, psychologists, and someone who nearly went through with such therapy.

The bill, dubbed “Local Law E,” is sponsored by Guilderland legislator Bryan Clenahan and would charge a fine to those who provide paid services to change a person’s sexual orientation; up to $1,000 would be charged for a first offense, $2,500 for a second, and $5,000 would be charged for each following offense.

Most national medical and psychiatric groups condemn the practice, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association. The practice has also been called “reparative” or “curative therapy.”

Samantha Howell, the executive director of the New York State Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said at Tuesday’s hearing that such a ban would not set a precedent for banning therapies for classified disorders, because being a sexual or gender minority is not a disorder.

However, she said, gay youth are at a higher risk for mental distress — those between the ages of 10 and 24 are at eight times the risk for suicide, she said.

“But add on to it, the complication of someone telling that you are wrong, that you are a mistake, is very traumatizing,” she said.

Legislator Paul Bergdorf asked whether this would affect those who wish to discuss their sexuality with a therapist. Howell said it would not. Another legislator, Patrice Lockhart, asked Howell how many people are practicing “conversion therapy” in Albany County now.” Howell said she didn’t know.

“It’s hard to find out,” she said.


The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Sexuality is not a disorder: Samantha Howell, the executive director of the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, speaks in favor of banning “conversion therapy” for minors in Albany County. Her organization rallied on Wednesday to do the same at the state level.

In a related story, The Enterprise reported it did not find any listed services offering “conversion therapy” in the area, but did speak to a man who supports such “therapy” and regularly attends sessions through a Catholic apostolate to quell feelings of and not act on “same-sex attraction.”

Judd Krasher, a former Berne resident who now lives in Albany and previously served on its common council, recounted his own brush with conversion therapy when he lived in Berne, and two men told him he could stop being gay with prayer and masculine activities. He did not accept their offer, but he had friends who did go through with it, and Krasher said they suffered from depression and substance abuse because of it.

“It is more than just a sympathetic gesture, which is important,” said Krasher, of the bill. He said that the law would expose “conversion therapy” being practiced in the county. Legislator Gilbert Ethier asked Krasher how this would be enforced. Krasher said that those exposed to “conversion therapy” would be able to tell someone they trust, who could pursue it further because it would be against the law.

Clenahan had told The Enterprise earlier this month that he was not sure if “conversion therapy” was practiced in the county but knew it was in the state based on a 2015 survey. He also said that the legislation would set an example for the state government and send a message that such “therapy” is wrong.

Clehahan’s wife, Dr. Griffin Randall, a psychiatrist who practices in Albany County, also voiced her support for the bill. She made note of the psychological milestones such as when homosexuality was no longer listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association, or in 1998 when the American Counseling Association passed a resolution against “conversion therapy.”

“Today, Albany County can join these ranks,” she said.

Another speaker, Victor Shimkin of Delmar, spoke on behalf of his daughter, Genya, who The Enterprise profiled in a podcast and discussed her efforts to help queer youth. Shimkin said that he accepts his daughter, who identifies as queer.

“Don’t waste your time,” he said, of “conversion therapy.” “Just accept them for who they are and love them.”

An entire bench was occupied by members of the University at Albany’s Counseling Psychology Department. Dr. Alex Pieterse, an associate professor, described the debate as “an issue of science,” rather than politics.

“As a licensed psychologist, I have personally seen the damage,” he said, of “conversion therapy.”

Ryan Ebersole, an instructor from the department, spoke next.

“I encourage you all to consider the message this sends,” he said, describing his own experience of feeling welcomed as a gay man in Albany after living in Mississippi, and explaining that this would be another significant action to make LGBTQ people feel welcome.

One opponent of the ban, John Nicholas of Latham, spoke at the hearing. He said he was from “a different age,” and believed in the Bible.

“How will this affect churches, synagogues, mosques?” he asked. “How will it affect my priest if he wants to have a class?”

When asked to elaborate on his position by Legislator Wanda Willingham, he said that he was against the ban.

“I think that homosexuals can be converted … ,” he said, adding that it is similar to treating alcoholics. “If they can be converted, I bet that’s what God wants,” he said of LGBTQ people.

Willingham told him that this ban would be for a specific type of treatment. “So I suggest you go back and read what this is about,” she said.

Clenahan asked Nicholas if his church supports or practices “conversion therapy.” Nicholas said that the church has never practiced it, but a priest offers counseling and he does not know what is discussed then.

“Those comments suggest that it is more needed,” Clenahan later told The Enterprise, of the ban.

Clenahan said that the bill is scheduled to be discussed in the legislature’s law committee in May. Should it move forward from there, he hopes to have it put to a full vote at the legislature’s regular meeting on June 11.

“This is not new; we’re hearing about it a lot now,” said Hollow, of the issue.

Should it pass, Albany County would be following several other New York municipalities. “Conversion therapy” was banned in New York City this past December. Practicing such “therapy” on minors was banned in Erie County in March, and a public hearing to issue a similar ban is scheduled for May in the Ulster County Legislature.

At the state level, the Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill to ban “conversion therapy” for minors last March, but the bill died in the Senate earlier this year. Governor Andrew Cuomo had also banned insurers from covering “conversion therapy” in 2016.

Howell and other members of the National Association of Social Workers rallied Wednesday morning in favor of passing a state bill.

Corrected on April 27, 2018: We changed the description of Genya Shimkin from “lesbian” to “identifies as queer.”

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