WORCESTER, Mass. – The city council voted Sept. 5 unanimously to endorse a resolution submitted by Mayor Joseph Petty both urging the state legislature to adopt a bill banning so-called “conversion therapy” on young people and stating that such a practice was not welcome within the city.
“Conversion therapy” refers to a set of practices performed on LGBTQ people, almost always youth, in an attempt to “correct” their gender identity or sexual orientation. It has been widely condemned, including by the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.
Speaking during the meeting, Council Member Khrystian King took the floor, striking a personal note. Referring to his elder brother, who is gay and was forced to undergo the therapy, King said, “I spoke to him this evening, and he still thinks about it. The first word that came to him was ‘creepy.’ The second thing that came to him is that he wanted me to share that this is abusive.”
King, himself a social worker, noted that the National Association of Social Work had condemned the practice, “back in 1972. Three and a half decades, and we’re still dealing with this issue.”
During the public participation section of the council meeting, the role of religion in promoting the therapy was introduced. Nathan Mano, a student at Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross, described his experience undergoing treatment. He said that the version he went through was the “least intense,” but that it still left him with emotional scars. It was conducted by a pastor with no clinical training.
“It took years for me to regain my self-confidence and love of myself,” Mano said. Referring to the pastor, he continued, “He was preying on a vulnerable 12-year-old boy who thought he was going to hell” and who began “looking for ways to end my life. I tried four times.”
Rev. Judith Hanlon of the Hadwen Park Congregational Church spoke of an even more pernicious form of “therapy,” and noted that “religious abuse undergirds much of the LGBT problems in this world.” She described the experience of women she knows who underwent collective gang rape to “teach them how to be straight.”
Hanlon said that her message as a pastor was different than those who supported the therapy. “You’re created beautifully in the image of God, and your identity is glorious,” she said. “It is not an abomination.”
Sarai Rivera, herself a reverend at Worcester’s Christian Community Church, as well as a council member, echoed Hanlon, saying of conversion therapy, “This isn’t Christianity; this is cruelty. This is a direct attack on humanity and human rights.”
In his remarks, Mayor Petty referred to Mano’s story, noting that those who undergo the therapy are 24 times more likely to commit suicide than other young people.
Petty noted that the city’s human rights commission supported the banning of the practice. Ed Robinson of the HRC condemned the “barbaric practice.”
The resolution was introduced by Mayor Petty, and co-sponsored by council members Candy Mero-Carlson, Kate Toomey, Khrystian King, Sarai Rivera, George Russell, Moe Bergman, Gary Rosen, and Tony Economou. They all voted for the resolution, as well as the council’s two other members. Petty introduced the resolution at the behest of the city’s LGBTQ community and its allies, including Dale LePage, who has long organized for banning the therapy.
Image: Doug Arbetter, candidate for city council in District 1, speaks against the therapy.