In June of 2017, when city council passed a bill to ban conversion therapy, New Yorkers stampeded the streets for freedom. But the celebratory period was only temporary. Two years later, New York City has completely destroyed the progress made by repealing the ban. Conversion therapy is a treatment grounded in the belief that being LGBTQ+ is abnormal. It is intended to change the sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression of LGBTQ+ people. Gay conversion therapy is now legal in New York City. It is necessary that we understand as well as acknowledge the massive disadvantages and obstacles that LGBTQ+ people have been forced to face, including oppression and neglect.
City Council Speaker, Corey Johnson, proposed the idea of repealing the ban on gay conversion therapy in New York City. This repeal came as a shock to many especially since Johnson identifies as gay. The repeal would allow practitioners to continue their conversion practices. Johnson claimed, “ultimately, I think this is the responsible, strategic thing to do.” Johnson spoke about this in the context of the current conservative administration, specifically within the Supreme Court. The repeal is supposed to neutralize the federal lawsuit filed against the city by a conservative Christian group. If the case were to be heard by the Supreme Court, their ruling could severely hinder any attempt to ban conversion therapy. Brett Kavanaugh, the newest member of the Supreme Court, has argued to strip away the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens. Conversion therapy could be deemed legal nationally if this case were to leave the realm of the municipal government and move to the Supreme Court. And so, Council members, to mitigate future harm, had no choice but to repeal the ban.
According to the Williams Institute, conversion efforts can dramatically affect one’s mental health and trigger suicidal behavior. Approximately 698,000 LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S. have received conversion therapy, with 350,000 of them receiving the treatment as adolescents. With the repeal, it is now completely legal to practice conversion therapy amongst minors under the age of eighteen in the forty-one states that have not banned the hazardous practice. In addition, the American Psychological Association has publicly stated that the practice is unlikely to be successful and will involve some risk of harm.
At Grace, the repeal has not been a topic of conversation. Numerous students, when told about the repeal, had little to no knowledge about it. There seems to be some unwillingness amongst the students of Grace to speak openly about this repeal, as numerous students and faculty members declined to speak. However, there were a few students and faculty members who were up-to-date on Speaker Johnson’s proposal. Reverend Hummell was willing to share his thoughts, saying, “after all of the progress that was made from gay being considered a mental illness to the pride march, it is disappointing to have your own city completely shift. I was particularly saddened with the idea of any youth struggling to come out, especially because this repeal truly does not represent us as a city. It truly disaffirms who we are. Conversion therapy evokes the idea that it is okay to be homophobic and that what you have is so bad that it must be cured. One also has to deal with the fact that someone is attempting to fix you, to become normal.”
Leaders of the Spectrum Alliance at Grace, Isabella Park ’21 and Liya Yaniv ’21, spoke about their thoughts on the repeal. “The repeal goes against everything that the Geneva Convention stood for. This is pure torture, and we are telling children to change a part of them. I have a friend who has been forced to go to conversion therapy because her parents want to fix her and they have searched for a cure to make her ‘straight.’ The repeal will make it possible for her to attend conversion therapy regularly. She’s my age. No seventeen-year-old should have to deal with torture.”
Teenage stories like this exist everyday at Grace. It’s not at all like New York City to be in favor of such far-right practices. Isabella stated, “it is a turning moment, for New York City, and for our country.” Let’s hope Grace will stay tuned.