The Senate Health, Human Services and Seniors Citizens Committee voted 7-1, with two abstentions, March 18 to back a measure that would prohibit New Jersey service providers from administering conversion therapy, designed to change a person’s sexual orientation, to people under 18.
The measure, led by Sens. Raymond Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg, will now go to the full Senate for a vote. Republican Sen. Samuel Thompson was the lone opponent. Republicans Dawn Marie Addiego and Robert Singer abstained, while Republican Diane Allen backed the measure, along with all the Democrats.
Out Assemblyman Tim Eustace is sponsoring companion legislation in the Assembly. Gov. Chris Christie has not said whether he would sign the measure.
California was the first and only state to ban conversion therapy for minors last year.
Prior to the vote, a number of LGBT community members spoke before the panel, including 18-year-old Jacob Rudolph, who rose to Internet fame earlier this year for his coming-out speech before his entire senior class.
Rudolph has since started a petition on Change.org calling for a ban on conversion therapy that has generated more than 110,000 signatures.
“I am not broken,” he told the legislators. “I am not confused. I do not need to be ‘fixed.’”
Rudolph was joined by Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, who told the committeemembers about his own experiences with conversion therapy.
He testified that when he was 15 he shared his first kiss with a boy, an encounter that was spotted by members of his high school’s football team, who chased the pair. When Stevenson got home, he called the boy to make sure he was safe, and they talked about the teen’s participation in “ex-gay” therapy. Later that day, the boy took his own life.
“It took me another decade before I was brave enough to honor his memory and honor my true self-identity by coming out of the closet once and for all,” Stevenson said in a statement to supporters before the committee hearing. “I became a better person, an advocate and stronger than I knew I could be. I found a new home, here in New Jersey, and I am proud to lead an organization that works every day to fight for the equality, fairness and acceptance that I never felt as a young person.”
The committee also heard from a number of proponents of conversion therapy, including people who purport to have conquered their LGBT identity and parents and therapists who said the legislation would be an intrusion on personal freedom.
All major medical associations, including the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association, have publicly opposed the practice of sexual orientation-change therapy.