A proposed ban against New York health professionals trying to change a child's sexual orientation through therapy comes too late for Matthew Shurka, a 26-year-old Long Island man who says he remains emotionally scarred from five years of attempts to "cure" his homosexuality.
"My anxiety was at its worst," Shurka said of the therapy that began when he was 16. "I never attempted suicide, but I had a lot of suicidal thoughts and dreams and thinking about it, considering it."
The American Psychological Association says that there is no evidence that the so-called gay conversion therapy can change someone's sexual orientation. A task force set up by the group found that it can cause distress and anxiety.
N.J., Calif. already banned conversion therapy
New York's Democratic-led Assembly is set to consider a bill on Wednesday that would ban the therapy on minors. Bans against gay conversion therapy have already gone into law in New Jersey and California. A proposed ban was voted down in Illinois in April.
In Texas, the Republican Party endorsed so-called reparative therapy. About 7,000 delegates ratified a new platform, which included the endorsement, without debating their party's stance on homosexuality at its annual convention over the weekend.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the proposed measure in New York and is the only openly gay member of the Senate, said that he heard from a man who had electrodes attached to his genitalia to curb his homosexual desires.
"On one level it's pretty nutty stuff," Hoylman said, "but it's happening in New York by licensed therapists."
'On one level it's pretty nutty stuff but it's happening in New York by licensed therapists.' - Brad Hoylman, senator who proposed N.Y. bill
The Democrat said that the bill would extend to New York state licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, mental health practitioners and physicians. Clergy would not be included in the ban.
Opponents of the ban say that it may infringe on a person's freedom of speech, although a federal judge in New Jersey upheld that state's ban in November saying that the law does not violate free speech.
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Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a California licensed clinical psychologist who founded the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, believes that conversion therapy only works when patients are motivated to change.
"We see homosexual behaviour as the client's or the patients attempt to repair something deficit within themselves, mainly masculinity," Nicolosi said. "According to the theory of reparative therapy, the male homosexual is engaging in homosexual activity to connect to the masculinity he feels he possesses within himself."
Shurka said he decided to take part in the conversion therapy after feeling scared and confused about his attraction to men.
"My only focus became becoming heterosexual," Shurka said. "I felt like this was the most important thing. It was out of fear, but no one held a gun to my head and said, 'you're doing conversion therapy."'
While Shurka was still underage, he said the therapist advised him to watch heterosexual pornography and practice certain masturbation techniques to curb his attraction to men. He said that didn't work, however, because he instead focused on the men.
A conversion therapist also advised Shurka to avoid women— including his mother and sister— and surround himself with male friends to pick up their heterosexual mannerisms so he could become "one of the boys."
After five years of therapy, Shurka embraced being gay and said that therapy wasn't going to change that.