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By Christopher Doyle
On Monday, 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.
Representatives from gay-rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, Equality New Jersey and the Trevor Project, as well as several mental health associations, testified at length about the so-called dangers of “conversion therapy” (this is a pejorative term coined by activists to demean therapies that assist individuals who experience unwanted SSA).
When Brielle Goldani, a transgendered woman from Toms River, N.J., stated she was tortured at an Ohio-based conversion therapy camp in 1997, the hearing turned very serious.
“Twice a week I was hooked up to electrodes on my hands,” she said. “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 male teenager. She claims that the torture occurred at 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 Sexual Orientation Change Effort (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, the 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, as Goldani claimed. 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.
The church’s 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!”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stated this week 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. Number one, 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,” commented Christie.
But what if the governor heard witnesses such as Goldani, who claimed to be tortured at the hands of SOCE? Wouldn’t that tend to sway his decision? When I informed the office of Sen. Joseph Vitale, who chaired Monday’s committee, of this fabricated testimony, his staff gave no immediate comment but said they would investigate the matter. The office of New Jersey Republican Sen. Diane Allen, who also sits on the committee, appeared more concerned, but explained that the senator was out of the office today and that no official comment would be given on her behalf.
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 Gov. Christie should be very cautious about the testimony of every witness that testified in support of the proposed ban.
Christopher Doyle, M.A., is the director of the International Healing Foundation and founder of Voice of the Voiceless, which defends the rights of clients with unwanted SSA, former homosexuals and their families. For more information, visit: www.ComingOutLoved.com/voiceofthevoiceless.