NY ban on conversion therapy is a win for humanity

NY ban on conversion therapy is a win for humanity
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Fifty years ago, New York gave birth to the modern LGBTQ rights movement at Stonewall. Since then, the state has assumed the mantle of LGBTQ progress because so much positive change has been made for the state’s LGBTQ community. PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) was founded in New York in 1972; Harvey Milk High School, the first school for out  gay and lesbian teens opened in New York City in 1985; and under the historic Marriage Equality Act, same-sex marriage was legalized in New York in 2011.

But progress has stalled and the mantle has faded. Pro-LGBTQ legislation hasn’t passed in New York in eight years. Given New York’s reputation for diversity and inclusion, it is jarring to think that in 2019 this state’s laws still permit licensed mental health professionals to try to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is equally surprising that our nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws wouldn’t protect the transgender women of color who were at Stonewall. And yet, that is the reality today.

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But with the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA, introduced by state Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried) and anti-conversion therapy legislation (introduced by Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Hoylman) now passed in the Assembly and Senate, New York can now reclaim its mantle as a leader by fully protecting its LGBTQ community.

As a gender-fluid survivor of the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy who has often experienced discrimination because of my gender identity, it means a lot to see GENDA and anti-conversion therapy legislation marching together towards the governor’s desk. And as a representative of The Trevor Project, the world’s largest organization dedicated to saving the lives of LGBTQ youth in crisis, I can tell you passing these bills now will save countless lives.

According to research by the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A. School of Law, nearly 700,000 individuals have experienced the trauma of conversion therapy; heartbreakingly, half of that number are believed to have been “treated,” like I was, before they turned 18. The practice of conversion therapy continues today. In early 2018, researchers estimated that 20,000 teenagers would be subjected to conversion therapy at the hands of a mental health professional before their 18th birthdays.

Though that number has shrunk by a thousand this year thanks to five states passing new legislation, 19,000 youth being made to feel like who they are or who they love is something that can be “fixed” is far too many.

What many people don’t know is that conversion therapy, as horrific as it is, is a symptom of a society which believes that sexual orientation and gender identity are not deserving of respect.

So when we pass legislation putting an end to licensed professionals performing conversion therapy on minors in New York, the work won’t be done unless we also ensure that transgender people are protected from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and included in hate crimes laws. That’s what GENDA will do by updating New York’s laws to ensure that our transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary residents enjoy the same civil rights protections under the law that are provided to others.

As much as New York is renowned for being a friendly home to LGBTQ people, we at The Trevor Project know that thousands of young New Yorkers made use of our suicide prevention and crisis intervention services in the last year alone. Our TrevorLifeline, TrevorText and TrevorChat counselors tell us that conversion therapy-related issues come up frequently and the stories these youth tell us about being forced to try to change who they are or who they love would break your heart.

Likewise, youth constantly speak to us about their fear of coming out in a world where being truthful about who they are can jeopardize their opportunities in life or expose them to violence and discrimination. They are all too aware that in 2017 New York State had the most anti-LGBTQ related homicides of almost all states; many of the victims were called out by name at that year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I can personally understand their fear. Walking down the street in heels when much of the world reads me as masculine means that I regularly experience gender-based hostility, even in New York City. And while my employer couldn’t be more accepting, I know that isn’t the case everywhere. But it should be.

No matter where I walk, no matter where I eat, no matter where I shop, my gender expression should not be an excuse for discrimination. And when someone chooses to discriminate against me, I should have the legal ability to protect myself. In New York today, no such right exists for transgender, non-binary or gender nonconforming people. But with the spirit of Stonewall guiding our steps, by the time we celebrate Pride this year, it can. It’s time for New York to lead the march into a better tomorrow.

Sam Brinton is the head of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project.