Testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Civil Rights, regarding Proposed Bill No. T2017-6329

June 19, 2017

Chair Mealy, Council Members, and staff, good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Civil Rights Committee regarding Proposed Bill No. T2017-6329.  My name is Heather Betz and I am the supervising attorney for the LGBTQ Law Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group.  NYLAG is a nonprofit law office dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers.  NYLAG serves immigrants, seniors, the homebound, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, those in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, persons with disabilities, patients with chronic illness or disease, low-wage workers, low-income members of the LGBTQ community, Holocaust survivors, veterans, as well as others in need of free legal services.  The LGBTQ Law Project provides free legal services and advocacy to low income Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, and Queer communities throughout New York City.  We work to defend and expand the rights of New York City’s LGBTQ community and offer legal advice and representation in a wide variety of poverty-related civil legal matters, such as employment and housing discrimination, public assistance, immigration, name and gender marker changes and family law.

NYLAG strongly supports the proposed bill to prohibit conversion therapy.  There is no place in our City for so-called “therapeutic” practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is a not mental illness that needs to be cured.  Conversion therapy practices are based on that false premise, which was rejected by every major medical and mental health organization decades ago. There is no credible evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Its practitioners lure vulnerable people with false promises and often inflict serious harm.

Conversion therapy poses serious health risks, especially for LGBTQ young people. Minors are often forced to undergo these harmful practices by their parents or legal guardians, and are at especially high risk of being harmed.  Conversion therapy can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicidal behavior.  These practices are devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers to patients.  It is vital that our City ensures people are not defrauded of their money by unscrupulous practitioners who promise results they cannot achieve while inflicting serious mental health harm.

There is no evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and practitioners who promise such an outcome are engaging in fraud.  The American Psychological Association undertook a comprehensive review of the published literature on these practices in 2009 and found no reliable evidence to support that they worked. Instead, the APA concluded: “The results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex sexual attractions or increase other-sex attractions through [conversion therapy].”  The American Psychiatric Association published a statement with the same conclusion in 2000.  It stated that: “In the last four decades, ”˜reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”

Conversion therapy can be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding that the practice has a risk of causing depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame and suicidality.  It further concluded that patients who undergo conversion therapy face an increased risk of substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, increased self-hatred, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, high-risk sexual behaviors, and a feeling of being dehumanized.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated: “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”

We believe that this bill should impose penalties on conversion therapy practitioners who target adults as well as children.  While minors are at particular risk of being forced into practices that seek to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, adults can also fall prey to unscrupulous practitioners.  As noted above, there is no scientific evidence that conversion therapy is effective at changing anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  Practitioners who accept payment for conversion therapy promising such an outcome are engaging in fraud.  At best, an adult who spends money to undergo conversion therapy has been defrauded of money for a service that cannot produce the desired results.  At worst, he or she has been subjected to a practice that may cause depression, substance abuse, social isolation, self-hatred, and suicidality. Such practices should not be offered for sale in our community.

The bill bans conversion therapy in both the psychological and/or “spiritual counseling” setting. It is essential that we prevent individuals from harming LGBTQ people in the name of religion.  At NYLAG, we often hear stories of clients being subjected to “treatment” from a trusted religious leader, only to suffer additional harm and depression as these interventions fail.  We must shine a light on these practices and hold religious individuals engaging in these abusive practice accountable for acts.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  NYLAG looks forward to continuing its strong partnership with the New York City Council to ensure that LGBTQ communities throughout New York City are treated with dignity and protected from harm.


Respectfully submitted,

New York Legal Assistance Group