County legislature passes bill banning ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider

At an April hearing, Albany County Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce listens as Albany resident Judd Krasher, who is gay, describes how in 2006, when he was 18 and a senior at Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School, he was approached by two individuals about “conversion therapy.”

ALBANY COUNTY — The Albany County Legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass a law that would ban so-called “conversion therapy” for minors and issue fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 to therapists who practice it on minors.

“Conversion therapy,” sometimes known as “reparative” or “curative” therapy, involves trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and has been discredited by a number of organizations, including the United States surgeon general in 2001.

County legislator Bryan Clenahan introduced the bill, known as Local Law E, in March to ban its practice on those under the age of 18. Clenahan, a Democrat who represents parts of Guilderland, is running for Guilderland town justice in a contentious race preceding a town caucus.

Clenahan told The Enterprise on Thursday that the process of passing the bill had strengthened his belief in the need for such a law. The procedure included a public hearing in April featuring speakers such as one who said he was offered “conversion therapy” in Berne, as well as mental health professionals like Clenahan’s wife, Dr. Griffin Randall, who spoke in favor of the bill.

One man said he was opposed, describing concerns with how it would affect religious organizations and said conversion could be similar to an alcoholic recovering.

Clenahan was asked at Monday night’s meeting by Republican Peter Crouse of Loudonville about the stipulation that the therapy in question be services in exchange for fees. Clenahan said this was done to distinguish such practices from religious institutions, but added “a fee can be anything, a fee can be a use of time.”

The vote taken on Monday had 37 resounding “yes” votes, including two legislators — Democrats Lynne Lekakis of Albany and William Reinhardt of Slingerlands — saying, “Hell yeah.” A round of applause came following the vote count. Republican Brian Hogan of Latham was absent.

The sole “no” vote came from Democrat Ralph Signoracci of Cohoes.

Signoracci told The Enterprise on Thursday that he was opposed to the bill because he believes that the issue — along with other issues that the county has taken on such as paid sick leave and raising the age for tobacco purchases — should be left for the state legislature. He said he believed many of these laws would be ineffective or difficult to enforce due to neighboring counties not having similar laws in place.

“I applaud the sponsor of the bill and those that voted for it,” he said, later adding that he would never want to see children harmed.

Clenahan said on Thursday that he believed the bill could affect the state legislature as Albany County and other counties in the state enact these measures. Ulster County and Erie County have both enacted similar bans this year.

“It sends a message right up the hill to the state legislature,” he said.

When asked if he believed such bills do affect state laws, Signoracci said he had seen no evidence of it.

Mary Rozak, the spokeswoman for Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the executive’s office would hold a public hearing on the bill on July 30 at 11 a.m. at the county office building. The hearing would precede McCoy’s decision on whether to enact the bill or veto it. Rozak had told The Enterprise last week that the executive’s policy is not to comment on a bill until after the public hearing.

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