N.Y. lawmakers consider ban on gay 'conversion therapy' for minors

NEW YORK Thu May 15, 2014 4:20pm EDT

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NEW YORK May 15 (Reuters) - New York lawmakers on Thursday heard testimony on a bill that would ban licensed therapists from counseling gay and lesbian minors to change their sexual orientation, amid a growing wave of backlash against the practice.

The so-called "conversion therapy" has seen increasing scrutiny recently from medical professionals and gay and lesbian rights advocates who say it damages the health and identities of gay youth. If the measure becomes law, New York would become the third state to ban the practice with minors since 2012.

"The anti-gay practice of so-called conversion therapy destroyed my life, tore apart my family, and nearly killed me," said Ryan Kendall, 31, at the hearing. Kendall said the practice led him to homelessness, drug abuse and thoughts of suicide.

The bill would ban licensed health professionals from administering therapies aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation to patients under 18 years old. Violators could be fined up to $10,000 and lose their license to practice.

California banned conversion therapy for minors in 2012, and New Jersey passed a similar law the following year.

The American Psychological Association and an array of other health and social welfare groups have concluded that conversion efforts can pose health risks to youth including confusion, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the bill, said he hoped to pass the bill this session.

New York City psychiatrist Jack Levy was the sole voice to testify against the bill, calling the bill politically motivated.

"It's putting the government in the consultation room with doctors and their patients," Levy said.

Dean Dafis, 44, testified that therapists performed shock therapy on him during his sessions as a teen - an extreme form of conversion therapy.

It started with electrodes on his hands that would activate when he was aroused by erotic images, he said. When the treatment failed to deliver the promise result, the electrodes were moved to his genitals.

"I was 13-years-old. To be prodded like that... it was humiliating. I felt violated," Dafis said. "This is something that needs to be stopped." (Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)

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