More than 110,000 people have signed a petition calling for a ban on so-called "Gay Conversion" therapy that attempts to change minors' sexual orientation, and it appears their voices have been heard in Trenton.
The New Jersey Senate's Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 7-1 Monday to advance a bill to the full Senate that would outlaw "gay conversion" therapy.
"The American Psychiatric Association has determined that the practice of counseling to change sexual orientation poses a great risk, including the likelihood or severity of depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior of those undergoing therapy," bill co-sponsor Sen. Raymond Lesniak wrote on his Facebook blog.
"This legislation seeks to prevent the harm done to children... from the practice of counseling to change sexual orientation. "
The Senate bill would prevent any counselor — psychiatrist, social worker, therapist, etc. — from attempting therapy to change minors' sexual orientation but would allow professionals to provide counseling that offers support and coping skills for minors struggling with their sexuality. Counselors who violate the law would face sanctioning under their professional licensing board.
The petition — with 111,863 signatures as of Monday afternoon — was launched by Parsippany High School senior Jacob Rudolph, who testified Monday before the Senate committee.
Rudolph, who came out in a speech in front of his classmates, said, "Perhaps the most cruel part of anti-gay conversion therapy is that these young people cannot even defend themselves from being subjected to this harmful practice,” he said. “I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be ‘fixed.’
“I’m thrilled that the New Jersey Legislature is moving quickly to ban the use of anti-gay ‘conversion’ therapy on minors, and I’m incredibly proud that my story and my petition have helped give a voice to the young people harmed by this dangerous practice,” Rudolph said.
Jewell Kutzer, one of the nearly 112,000 to sign the petition, wrote "as an ordained minister, I find the practice of trying to 'fix' people who are gay to be scandalous. There is no justification for this practice in the health field or the religious field."
The Senate bill was initially introduced in the chamber in October, when it was referred to the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. It must clear both houses of the Legislature before heading to Gov. Chris Christie.