On March 18, the New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee held a three-hour hearing on a bill that would take away the rights of minors who experience unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) to receive therapy from licensed mental health professionals. Even if they were sexually abused by the likes of pedophile Jerry Sandusky and developed SSA as a result – and do not wish to live a gay life – this law would forbid them to get help from a counselor to pursue their heterosexual potential.
Earlier in the week, New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, stated that he wasn't sure if he would sign such a bill should it pass the legislature. "I'm of two minds just on this stuff in general . . . I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children. I don't - this is a general philosophy, not to his bill - generally philosophically, on bills that restrict parents' ability to make decisions on how to care for their children, I'm generally a skeptic of those bills. Now, there can always be exceptions to those rules and this bill may be one of them."
But after the liberal media and activist community quickly pounced, labeling him a homophobe, the governor changed his story later in the week when a spokesperson told the New Jersey Star-Ledger: "Governor Christie does not believe in conversion therapy . . . there is no mistaking his point of view on this when you look at his own prior statements where he makes clear that people's sexual orientation is determined at birth."
Leaving aside the governor's ill-informed views on the etiology of homosexuality, it's very odd for Christie to take positions on legislation before it has passed through the legislature and reached his desk. So one has to wonder, why break precedent now?
The first and obvious reason is that it is an election year, and Christie's challenger, State Senator Barbara Buono, and co-sponsor of the bill, is using this issue to drive a wedge between the governor and the gay community. After the governor's original comments, Buono called Christie's stance "disgusting," adding that "gay children don't need to be 'cured.'"
That's right, it's disgusting for parents to have a say over their children's health. After all, who do they think they are? But that's not the only reason the governor might be coming out against this therapy. What if the governor believed witnesses from the senate health committee hearing last Monday who claimed to be tortured at the hands of sexual orientation change effort (SOCE) therapy? Wouldn't that tend to sway his decision?
Along with representatives from the Human Rights Campaign, Equality New Jersey, and the Trevor Project, who testified against SOCE citing a parade of horribles, an additional witness, a New Jersey transgendered woman, stated she was tortured at an Ohio-based conversion therapy camp in 1997.
"Twice a week I was hooked up to electrodes on my hands," said Brielle Goldani. "I, a child, was shocked repeatedly by people who had my parent's permission to torture me." Goldani, now 29, claims that she had no rights when her parents sent her away as a teenager to a conversion camp called True Directions. "This is nothing more than legalized child abuse," claimed Goldani at the hearing.
Having attended and testified at the hearing myself, I was shocked and horrified to hear about such abuse. As a former homosexual and practitioner of SOCE therapy, I had never heard of such inhumane treatment, except from anti-ex-gay activists who often claim that SOCE employs such barbaric methods. So I tracked down Goldani and talked to her on the phone to find out more information.
Goldani claims that an Assemblies of God Church in Columbus, Ohio, ran the True Directions conversion therapy camp:
"There were 12 boys, and 12 girls. The first Sunday I was there, I was forced to sit in their church service, which was nothing but hate speech. Then, on Monday, the heavier therapy began. We were forced to masturbate to heterosexual images and soft-core pornography, such as Sport Illustrated swimsuit models. Twice a week, my hands were hooked up to electrodes for two hours at a time while we were shown positive images such as a nuclear family, a female with children, a male construction worker, and a female receptionist. I was also subjected to forced IV injections twice a week for two hours each while being made to watch negative images of what they didn't approve of…the injections made me vomit uncontrollably. Every Friday and Saturday evening, we were forced to go on 'flirting dates' where a camp counselor coached us on how to talk to the opposite sex romantically…we were also given uniforms to wear, black pants and white shirts for boys, black skirts and white blouses for girls."
Sounds pretty horrible, right? What "Christian" church or therapist would use such barbaric, violent treatments? In a phone interview, Rev. John Wooton, Superintendent of the Ohio Council of Assembly of God Churches, denied that any such program exists or has ever existed in their church. But if such an abusive camp did exist, surely a participant or parent would have filed ethics complaints long ago. Surely, the Ohio legal authorities would have put an end to this abuse!
According to the office of the Ohio Secretary of State and Attorney General, no such camp called True Directions has ever existed. In fact, the only trace of this camp is from a 1999 film titled, "But I'm a Cheerleader," starring RuPaul. In the film, the main character is suspected of being a lesbian by her family, who then proceeds to send her to a "conversion therapy" camp called True Directions. Throughout the course of the film, two disgruntled gay men encourage the campers to rebel against the program and discover their true identities as gays and lesbians. The final scene of the film shows the main character's parents attending a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) meeting to accept their daughter's homosexuality.
Dr. Elton Moose, a licensed counselor who has been working in Springfield, Ohio said in a written statement: "I have been in this business for 24 years and have not heard of this camp . . . these types of shock therapy accusations have been around for many years, but I have not actually known a practice that has used this therapy."
Goldani, who works as a peer specialist and mental health counselor, claims that the church she attended as a teenager in New Jersey, The Church in Brielle, paid for her to attend the camp, which lasted a month and-a-half. Goldani also claims to have been counseled by the pastor of the church on staff at the time, which included talking, reading Bible verses, and listening to statistics about HIV/AIDS.
Their current leader, Pastor Lou LaFauzia, whose church is affiliated with the Reformed Church of America said in a phone interview, "We love everyone regardless of sexual orientation . . . I can say that this would have never happened at this church, and I can't imagine any church members in 1997 who would do this. It's outlandish!"
While it's not immediately clear whether the proposed bill, which passed out of committee with a vote of 7-1 (with two abstentions), will be held up due to this fabricated testimony, the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Christie should be very cautious about the testimony of every witness that testified in support of the proposed ban. Additionally, State Senator Barbara Buono should be ashamed of herself for trying to score cheap political points instead of standing up for the rights of New Jersey children who may need counseling because of sexual abuse. Who will be their voice?