Federal Appeals Court Upholds New Jersey Law Prohibiting Conversion Therapy for Minors

COURT REJECTS ANTI-LGBT GROUPS’ CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES TO LAW

TRENTON, N.J. (September 11, 2014)—Today, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit unanimously upheld a 2013 New Jersey law prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression or identity of patients under 18 years old. The Court held that the New Jersey law does not violate the First Amendment and that the State of New Jersey was entitled to prohibit these discredited practices in order to protect minors from harm. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a similar California law last year.

The New Jersey law prohibits licensed therapists from subjecting minor patients to “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), which the law defines as the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”

Writing for the court, Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith held that “over the last few decades a number of well-known, reputable professional and scientific organizations have publicly condemned the practice of SOCE, expressing serious concerns about its potential to inflict harm,” and that “[m]any such organizations have also concluded that there is no credible evidence that SOCE counseling is effective.”

The constitutionality of the New Jersey law was challenged in August 2013 in a lawsuit filed by anti-LGBT groups primarily representing therapists who engage in the prohibited practices. The case was assigned to federal district judge Freda Wolfson, who held that the law was a valid exercise of the state’s authority to regulate medical professionals to protect public health and safety. That ruling was appealed and heard by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit in July 2014.

While applying a higher standard of review, the Third Circuit upheld Judge Wolfson’s judgment that the law is constitutional, stating: “Legislatures are entitled to rely on the empirical judgments of independent professional organizations that possess specialized knowledge and experience concerning the professional practice under review, particularly when this community has spoken with such urgency and solidarity on the subject.”

In the fall of 2013, Garden State Equality filed a successful motion to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the law alongside New Jersey Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, who represents the State of New Jersey defendants. Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Gluck Walrath LLP. David Flugman of Kirkland & Ellis argued the case on behalf of Garden State Equality.

“The court’s decision today is a major victory for the thousands of young people who will now be protected from these dangerous and horrific practices,” said Andrea Bowen, Garden State Equality’s executive director. “No one should subject minors to conversion therapy—least of all state-licensed clinicians responsible for the care and well-being of their patients.”

Shannon Minter, NCLR’s Legal Director, said “This decision means that New Jersey youth will continue being protected from cruel and damaging practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health professional organizations. The court of appeals’ ruling makes clear that state-licensed therapists do not have a constitutional right to engage in discredited practices that offer no health benefits and put LGBT youth at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. We thank Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, Deputy Attorney General Susan Marie Scott, and the entire legal team at the Office of the Attorney General for their work defending this essential law.”

The New Jersey law, known as Assembly Bill A3371, had seventeen primary and co-sponsors in the Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie on August 19, 2013. In the Governor’s Statement Upon Signing, Governor Christie noted the “critical health risks” posed by conversion therapy, including “depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.”

Learn more about the case.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

NCLR Representing Conversion Therapy Survivor who Alleges Sexual Abuse by School Leader After Coming Out

DeSOTO COUNTY, Miss. (August 27, 2014)—Yesterday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) helped file a complaint with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of a former student of Bethel Baptist School in Walls, Mississippi who says he was sexually abused for three years by a teacher attempting to “cure” his sexual orientation.

The former student, Jeff White, now 32, alleges that, shortly after coming out in 1996, his parents turned to the local church, which ran a school it promised could “cure” their son and stop him from being gay. Beginning his freshman year, according to White, teacher Steven Barnes began subjecting White to weekly “counseling” sessions in which he regularly raped and sexually assaulted the teenager to convince him that being gay was more painful than suppressing his sexual orientation.

After more than a decade of emotional turmoil, White heard about NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy in five years. He found the courage to come forward because he wants to ensure that what happened to him will not happen to other children and to raise awareness about the dangers of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation.

“After growing older and witnessing so many who are still harmed by the church and by efforts to correct homosexuality through traumatic and damaging tactics like the ones used against me, I finally realized that it is my duty to stand up against those who have harmed me,” said White. “By speaking out against the wrongdoings that were committed within the walls of Bethel Baptist School, I hope to shed light on the darkness that is so easily hidden within the church, and to help ensure that no one else suffers the pain that I had to endure. I am extremely grateful to NCLR staff attorney Sam Ames and the NCLR team for assisting me and so many others who have been hurt by the immoral practices of conversion therapy.”

White is now the executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, the first LGBT center in the state. Barnes is now the Assistant Pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Walls, MS. NCLR is joined in this case by Hawkins & Gibson, PLLC, a law firm with a long history fighting for the rights of children abused by adults in positions of authority, including members of the clergy.

In June, NCLR launched the #BornPerfect campaign to protect LGBT kids from the harms caused by attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. NCLR has been at the forefront of the effort to protect LGBT kids from these practices for more than 20 years, successfully working to help draft and pass California’s Senate Bill 1172 in 2012, the nation’s first to protect LGBT children from the dangers of conversion therapy. The following year, NCLR helped New Jersey pass a similar law and is now working with legislators and LGBT leaders in more than a dozen other states to bring protections to LGBT kids across the country.

Through #BornPerfect, NCLR provides state legislators and LGBT leaders with comprehensive resources and a solid foundation to build statewide campaigns; works closely with state legislators and LGBT leaders throughout the legislative process, including drafting legislation, coordinating hearings with key witnesses, and gaining support to pass legislation; raises awareness about these dangerous practices and the lasting harm they cause in the lives of LGBT children by empowering survivors and providing them with the support to speak out about their experiences; and fights in court for the safety and well-being of LGBT kids.

Members of Former Ex-Gay Leaders Alliance

Former ‘Ex-Gay’ Movement Denounce Leaders Conversion Therapy

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (July 31, 2014)—Today, nine former leaders of so-called “ex-gay” ministries published a joint letter denouncing the dangerous practices of conversion therapy and lending their support to the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy in five years.

In the deeply personal letter, these nine leaders—including founders of Exodus International and Coming Back—recall their own struggles with being LGBT and what led them to propagate these ministries. After long and painful journeys, each ultimately came to the conclusion that conversion therapy and ex-gay ministries are ineffective and harmful, especially to LGBT youth, and can have disastrous consequences.

In the letter, they state: “As former ex-gay leaders, having witnessed the incredible harm done to those who attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we join together in calling for a ban on conversion therapy. It is our firm belief that it is much more productive to support, counsel, and mentor LGBT individuals to embrace who they are in order to live happy, well-adjusted lives. We fully support the aim of #BornPerfect to bring an end to conversion therapy.”

The letter was signed by: Brad Allen, former church network coordinator for Exodus International; Darlene Bogle, founder and former director of Paraklete Ministries; Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International; Catherine Chapman, former Women’s Ministry director for the Portland Fellowship; Jeremy Marks, founder of Courage UK and Exodus Europe; Bill Prickett, founder and former executive director of Coming Back; Tim Rymel, former outreach director of Love in Action; Yvette Cantu Schneider, former executive director of Living in Victory Ministry and director of women’s ministry for Exodus International; and John J. Smid, former executive director of Love In Action and board member for Exodus International.

NCLR launched #BornPerfect in June to protect LGBT kids from the harms caused by attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. NCLR has been at the forefront of the effort to protect LGBT kids from these practices for more than 20 years, successfully working to help draft and pass California’s Senate Bill 1172 in 2012, the nation’s first to protect LGBT children from the dangers of conversion therapy. The following year, NCLR helped New Jersey pass a similar law and is now working with legislators and LGBT leaders in more than a dozen other states to bring protections to LGBT kids across the country.

“We are committed to protecting LGBT children and their families from the severe harms caused by these dangerous practices,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “These practices have been thoroughly discredited by every major mental health organization, and yet, every day, young lives are wrecked. We intend to stop the practices once and for all.”

Through #BornPerfect, NCLR:

  • Provides state legislators and LGBT leaders with comprehensive resources and a solid foundation to build statewide campaigns;
  • Works closely with state legislators and LGBT leaders throughout the legislative process, including drafting legislation, coordinating hearings with key witnesses, and gaining support to pass legislation;
  • Raises awareness about these dangerous practices and the lasting harm they cause in the lives of LGBT children by empowering survivors and providing them with the support to speak out about their experiences;
  • Fights in court for the safety and well-being of LGBT kids.

Booking & Interviews

Contact NCLR Director of Communications Christopher Vasquez at cvasquez@NCLRights.org to arrange interviews with survivors of these practices, therapists who work with survivors, and NCLR staff about the campaign.

Read the letter.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

Federal Court Rejects Second Lawsuit Challenging New Jersey Law Prohibiting Conversion Therapy for Minors

TRENTON, N.J. (July 31, 2014)—Today, Judge Freda Wolfson of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a 2013 New Jersey law prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of a patient under 18 years old. The judge also granted a request by Garden State Equality, the state’s largest civil rights organization and the leading organization supporting passage of the law, to intervene in the case in defense of the law.

Today’s decision follows Judge Wolfson’s November 2013 decision dismissing a similar challenge to the law filed on behalf of therapists who wish to engage in these dangerous and long-discredited practices. That earlier decision is now on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which heard argument in the case on July 9.

In today’s ruling, Judge Wolfson concluded that “the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful or ineffective.” Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and GluckWalrath LLP.

In 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision upholding a similar law in California protecting youth from these harmful practices. On June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to further review that case. Similar legislation prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change minors’ sexual orientation or gender identity also has been proposed in several other states.

Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.:

“We are very pleased that Judge Wolfson has again upheld this life-saving law. This law protects New Jersey’s youth from dangerous and discredited practices that have been rejected by the country’s leading medical and mental health organizations. Although well-meaning parents often think they are helping their children by sending them to therapists who engage in these practices, the truth is that attempting to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not improve their health, but instead puts them at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. New Jersey has wisely decided to end these harmful practices, just as it prohibits other medical treatments that are dangerous and ineffective.”

TRENTON, N.J. (July 31, 2014)—Today, Judge Freda Wolfson of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a 2013 New Jersey law prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of a patient under 18 years old. The judge also granted a request by Garden State Equality, the state’s largest civil rights organization and the leading organization supporting passage of the law, to intervene in the case in defense of the law.

Today’s decision follows Judge Wolfson’s November 2013 decision dismissing a similar challenge to the law filed on behalf of therapists who wish to engage in these dangerous and long-discredited practices. That earlier decision is now on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which heard argument in the case on July 9.

In today’s ruling, Judge Wolfson concluded that “the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful or ineffective.” Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and GluckWalrath LLP.

In 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision upholding a similar law in California protecting youth from these harmful practices. On June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to further review that case. Similar legislation prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change minors’ sexual orientation or gender identity also has been proposed in several other states.

Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.:

“We are very pleased that Judge Wolfson has again upheld this life-saving law. This law protects New Jersey’s youth from dangerous and discredited practices that have been rejected by the country’s leading medical and mental health organizations. Although well-meaning parents often think they are helping their children by sending them to therapists who engage in these practices, the truth is that attempting to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not improve their health, but instead puts them at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. New Jersey has wisely decided to end these harmful practices, just as it prohibits other medical treatments that are dangerous and ineffective.”


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

All LGBT Kids Are #BornPerfect

Born Perfect meme imageBy Kate Kendell, Esq.NCLR Executive Director

Even as the LGBT community enjoys huge gains in understanding and acceptance. Even as we have key leaders from every sector and across every spectrum supporting our full equality and rejecting rank bigotry. Even as we seem closer than ever to winning the freedom to marry nationwide, a persistent and longstanding threat has reemerged.

You have likely heard or read a chorus of anti-LGBT voices in the last few weeks supporting so-called “conversion therapy,” the vile practice used by some unethical counselors and therapists to try to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Texas Republican Party this month officially endorsed this dangerous practice which has been condemned by every major medical organization in the country, saying “we recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.”

Days later, Mathew Staver, an ardent opponent of LGBT equality, told a congressional committee in Washington, D.C. that attempts to protect yo uth from this dangerous practice “represent one of the greatest assaults on children and families that has arisen in recent times” and, in a blatant lie, said that mental health professionals could “successfully reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.”

Then, former Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry equated being LGBT to alcoholism, saying  “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

For more than 20 years, NCLR has diligently worked to end conversion therapy, especially for LGBT youth. We know the practice—which often includes the use of shame and verbal abuse—does untold damage. We know it is dangerous and wholly discredited. We know sexual orientation and gender identity cannot and should not be changed.  We are committed once and for all to ending conversion therapy, ensuring that every LGBT person knows they were born perfect.

But recent statements by the Texas GOP and others over the past few weeks make clear that the vocal minority of anti-LGBT advocates who profit from this destructive practice will not go quietly. These statements are not just random comments or events. This is a coordinated effort to reassert the legitimacy of this fully discredited practice and to resurrect the fraud that sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed. 

Conversion therapy’s vicious assault on human dignity is on the ropes—but it is essential that we finish the job. Over the last two years, NCLR has played a pivotal role in passing and successfully defending laws protecting LGBT children from these practices in California and New Jersey. State legislators and policymakers across the country have seen the damage this quackery inflicts on young people and taken action to stop it.  We are now working closely with legislators and state leaders in several states to pass laws similar to those in California and New Jersey.

To support our multi-pronged effort to end conversion therapy in the next five years, we have launched #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy.

We have seen firsthand the damage done by this dehumanizing and shaming practice. We’ve heard Sam Brinton share the lasting trauma from a doctor who used ice and hot coils to associate images of men with pain. We’ve heard Ryan Kendall testify about turning himself over to social services at 16 rather than be forced to continue the conversion therapy that was driving him to the brink of suicide. We’ve heard Deb Cuny recount the heartbreaking struggle to suppress her attraction to women by spending her teenage years being prayed over and even exorcised in an attempt to keep her family intact and fulfill her dream of becoming a minister.

Those who traffic in these practices have now joined forces with anti-LGBT lawmakers and fringe organizations to defend them. We do not intend to let them win.

For every Sam, or Ryan, or Deb, there are countless others who have endured this practice and live with the scars. They may survive and even thrive, but they never forget. And too many get lost along the way. Conversion therapy is a dangerous fraud. We intend to end it.

NCLR Launches National Campaign to Protect LGBT Kids from Dangers of Conversion Therapy

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (June 24, 2014)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is launching #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy, a national effort aimed at protecting LGBT kids from the harms caused by attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, including alienation from their families, severe depression, and suicide attempts.

Few practices hurt LGBT children more than attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts.” Yet some unethical counselors and therapists continue to subject young LGBT people to these practices—which often include the use of shame and verbal abuse—even though they have been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization in the country.

NCLR has been at the forefront of the effort to protect LGBT kids from these practices for more than 20 years, successfully working to help draft and pass California’s Senate Bill 1172 in 2012, the nation’s first to protect LGBT children from the dangers of conversion therapy. The following year, NCLR helped New Jersey pass a similar law and is now working with legislators and LGBT leaders in more than a dozen other states to bring protections to LGBT kids across the country.

“The time is long overdue to stop the severe harms being inflicted on young LGBT children and their families by these dangerous practices,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “These practices have been thoroughly discredited by every major mental health organization, and yet, every day, unethical therapists continue to abuse their professional authority to deceive parents and wreck the lives of youth who deserve nothing but support.” Through #BornPerfect, NCLR:

  • Provides state legislators and LGBT leaders with comprehensive resources and a solid foundation to build statewide campaigns;
  • Works closely with state legislators and LGBT leaders throughout the legislative process, including drafting legislation, coordinating hearings with key witnesses, and gaining support to pass legislation;
  • Raises awareness about these dangerous practices and the lasting harm they cause in the lives of LGBT children by empowering survivors and providing them with the support to speak out about their experiences;
  • Fights in court for the safety and well-being of LGBT kids.

Ryan Kendall was a teenager when he went through conversion therapy—an experience that altered his life, resulting in him running away from his family’s Colorado home and legally separating himself from his parents so he would no longer have to endure hurtful and traumatic visits with his therapist. The ordeal would cost Kendall his family and more than a decade of his life in which he sank into depression and substance abuse.

“By 16, I had lost everything,” said Kendall, now 31, and a recent graduate of Columbia University with plans on attending law school. “My family and my faith had rejected me, and the damaging messages of conversion therapy, coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide. I am lucky that I survived, but I will never be able to recover the years I lost to feeling worthless and suicidal because a therapist convinced my family that being gay is a mental illness and that who I am is shameful and wrong. These practices are child abuse, pure and simple.”

“No LGBTQ kid should ever have to endure what I did,” said Deb Cuny, 34, who went through the practice as a teenager and spent years being prayed over and even exorcised in an attempt to keep her family intact and fulfill her dream of becoming a minister. “No child should ever be told that they are broken, pressured into being cleansed of evil that doesn’t exist, or forced to choose between being honest about who they are and being loved. I absolutely believe the #BornPerfect campaign is going to save lives and put a long overdue end to conversion therapy.”


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.