Good Morning
Good Morning
Long Island

Gay advocates hail Cuomo policy

Mathew Shurka, who grew up in Great Neck

Mathew Shurka, who grew up in Great Neck and lives in Brooklyn, has spoken out against "conversion therapy" practices that aim to turn gay people straight. Here, as co-leader of the "Born Perfect" campaign, Shurka speaks on April 12, 2015 in Commack about his experiences undergoing the treatment. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

LGBT advocates praised new state regulations that will restrict treatments aimed at turning gay children straight and said the measures should be steps toward a broader ban.

The proposed rules, issued as executive actions by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seek to block insurers from reimbursing providers for “conversion therapy” services to people younger than 18; make it unlawful for mental health facilities licensed, funded or operated by the state to engage in such practices; and forbid the use of Medicaid funds to pay for the treatments.

The regulations represent a “historic” shift, said Mathew Shurka, 27, a gay advocate originally from Great Neck who has shared his story of being subjected as a teenager and young man to practices intended to make him more masculine. He has said the treatments left him confused and suicidal.

“He is the first governor to end conversion therapy by executive action, which is a huge milestone for us,” said Shurka, who lives in Brooklyn. “It is a life-or-death issue for many people.”

The policy change makes New York the fifth state to restrict the treatments. California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia outlaw conversion therapy treatment on minors.

The executive actions were filed with the state’s Department of State this week and a 45-day public comment period will start within two weeks. The regulations are expected to take effect at the end of April, a Cuomo spokesman said.

David Kilmnick, chief executive of the LGBT Network that advocates for equal rights on Long Island, called the governor’s push “a first-in-the-nation kind of action” that would dry up insurance funds for such treatments, though he sees a need for more reforms.

“At least for now it should put a stop to what is a barbaric process and to what amounts to torture for people who have gone through this,” Kilmnick said. “This is a governor’s order and not legislation, so it can be undone” by another governor.

A bill to ban “sexual orientation change efforts,” introduced by state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), passed the Assembly in 2014 and 2015, but was not brought to a vote in the Senate either year.

Cuomo, speaking Saturday at the gala of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group in Manhattan, cast the regulations as part of an agenda for New York values that includes marriage equality and protection for transgender people. He said he was proud that, through issuance of the regulations, “today we rejected fundamentally the absurd notion that being gay is a psychiatric disorder.”

Stephen Hayford, legislative director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an advocacy group for evangelical Christians, said his organization will oppose the restrictions and will offer comments to influence the drafting of the regulations. He thinks blocking Medicaid reimbursement falls a step shy of a full ban.

“The governor is our governor. He is not our king, and he doesn’t get to decide to act on his own,” Hayford said. “It’s a religious freedom issue for individuals, for families and for mental health practitioners.”

Gerald Schoenewolf, a licensed psychoanalyst in Manhattan who offers what he calls “reparative therapy” to change sexual orientation, dismissed the consensus of professional medical, therapy and counseling groups against the practice as “a lot of noise” spurred by activism.

He said he doesn’t oppose limits on the therapy for minors, but that adults should be free to choose it.

“No one would say that a person doesn’t have the right to change from a man to a woman, or from a woman to a man, but in this instance somehow people’s rights are being abridged if they want to change from gay to straight,” Schoenewolf said.

Hoylman and Glick praised the governor’s actions. Hoylman, stressing the need for a law, said, “Albany needs to pass legislation . . . to ban this practice by defining it as professional misconduct, subject to stiff penalties, censure and revocation of a therapist license.”

Latest Long Island News