UN Tackles Gay 'Conversion Therapy' For First Time

Published: February 1, 2013

A panel of mental health experts, human rights advocates, religious leaders and a former patient gathered Thursday at the United Nations Church Center to discuss a controversial therapy that claims to "cure" gay people and make them straight. Although such practices have been around for decades, the concept has come under increased scrutiny over the last five years as lawsuits and litigation attempt to curb the "conversion therapy" and the mainstream mental health profession renounces it.

The panel is the first at the U.N. to directly address this so-called therapy, sometimes referred to as sexual orientation change efforts. Those who organized the event said they hoped it would be the first of many similar conversations, and part of a larger push from the U.N. to address gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.

The panel was organized by Bruce Knotts, the director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, and Mordechai Levovitz, the LGBT advocacy coordinator there, both of whom are openly gay, and have had brushes with conversion therapy. For Knotts it happened in the late 80s, when he was working as a U.S. diplomat, and the Department of State sent him to a psychologist "who was supposed to make me straight," Knotts told the audience. "I was with him three times a week for a year, and I didn’t notice any difference at all."

When Levovitz was 18, he reached out to an organization called Jews Offering New Alternatives To Healing (or JONAH), a counseling center that is now the target of a first-of-its-kind consumer fraud lawsuit. After two two-hour conversations, Levovitz decided the center wasn’t for him. "I could tell right away that he was a snake oil salesman," he said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "But many of my friends did go, and some of my friends were very damaged and traumatized by it, and some of them weren’t."

In addition to the New Jersey lawsuit, groundbreaking legislation passed last year in California banning licensed practitioners from performing the therapy on minors. But even as other states are considering similar legislation, a California court temporarily blocked the law after two lawsuits filed by Christian legal organizations took aim at it, arguing the law is unconstitutional.

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