Ulster County Legislator Proposes Conversion Therapy Ban For Minors

Apr 6, 2018

An Ulster County legislator has proposed a countywide ban on conversion therapy for minors. If the bill is enacted, Ulster would become the second county outside New York City with such a ban. The effort comes as several states and municipalities consider the prohibition.

Democratic Ulster County Legislator Jonathan Heppner says when he found out that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, also a Democrat, had signed a law banning conversion therapy on minors, he realized a ban he thought was already in place was not.

“It was an instance where I actually assumed that conversion therapy for minors was already banned in New York state,” Heppner says. “That is not the case.”

Conversion therapy is a controversial practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued executive orders banning public and private health care insurers from covering the practice, and prohibiting various mental health facilities across New York from conducting conversion therapy on minors. A bill with an outright ban passed in the Assembly, but not in the Senate. Jeff Rindler is executive director of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center in Kingston.

“I applaud Legislator Heppner for being proactive and really just raising awareness about this very unsettling and very potentially damaging practice that has led some youth certainly to suffer from lack of acceptance and being shamed all the way through to taking their own life for feeling so horrible,” Rindler says.

Again Heppner.

“So it really was a question of why wouldn’t we do this, why wouldn’t we stand and make a statement for inclusion which, I believe, Ulster County has a strong record of doing. And we have a strong record of working to protect our young people. We recently, last session, passed a really strong, innovative cyberbullying law,” Heppner says. “So I think this is just another step in working to be an inclusive community and also working towards one of our greatest responsibilities, and that is to protect our children and our youth.”

Another example is that on April 10, there is a public hearing on a proposed Ulster County law to raise the minimum age to 21 to purchase tobacco products. Meantime, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which in 2014 launched #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy, 10 states and Washington, D.C, have bans on conversion therapy on LGBT youth, while there are 32 municipal ordinances, including in Erie County and New York City. Legislation is in motion in at least 15 other states. Here’s Rindler.

“We have not necessarily received problems but, again, what it does is sends a message to the psychiatric community and just the overall community that this is, will not be tolerated,” says Rindler.

Heppner, minority whip, says his legislation is modeled after Erie County’s. Heppner’s proposed law would impose a $5,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail for violating the provision. Erie County’s law imposes a $1,000 fine. Heppner says his proposed legislation would act as a deterrent.

“You don’t have therapists advertising being a leader in conversion therapy in the newspaper ads,” says Heppner. “A lot of times it happens in the shadows, especially amongst some religious institutions and other entities.”

Rindler, who Heppner consulted on the proposed legislation, says his center will continue to advocate for the law.

“We have a two-prong approach. One is we at the center, our board, myself, will take an active role in participating in those hearings; and, two, to put it out to our over 3,000 email contacts; one; making them aware of the law and;  two, inviting them to either come and play an active role or to forward it on to their contacts,” says Rindler.

Heppner says the Public Health and Social Services Committee unanimously voted to put the proposal to a public hearing; next it’s the Laws and Rules Committee’s turn. If it, too, approves a hearing, Heppner says the full legislature will vote on the same.