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Advocates call on state, local lawmakers to ban controversial practice

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On Tuesday evening Albany County residents will have a chance to weigh in on banning a controversial practice known as conversion therapy, a practice aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The law being considered in Albany County would prohibit a person from offering conversion therapy services to a minor, or someone under the age of 18.

“There is a lot of research on it and all of the research indicates that there is no indication that conversion therapy is successful,” said Samantha Howell, the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers in New York State.

Howell planned to speak at Tuesday’s public hearing in Albany County, asking lawmakers to pass the ban which she said specifically targets licensed professionals. She said that her organization is concerned about licensed professionals being part of this practice because it goes against their code of ethics.

“It can do more harm by creating an environment where one is ashamed of their sexual orientation, embarrassed by their sexual orientation, believe that it is wrong. We support everyone’s individual right to be an individual,” said Howell.

On Wednesday, she will be part of a rally at the State Capitol calling on state lawmakers to pass a similar ban statewide.

“Conversion therapy tore my family apart,” said Mathew Shurka, an advocate for ending conversion therapy. He grew up in New York State and said that he personally went through conversion therapy for five years, beginning when he was 16 years old.

“I wasn’t able to see my mother and two sisters for three years. That was a way to defeminize me as a part of the treatment, and again, all my treatment was conducted by a licensed professional which is exactly what the bill is about,” he said.

Shurka has now become a voice for others and will be speaking with lawmakers on Wednesday. The topic has come up in the State Legislature before, but has been blocked by Senate Republicans.

“It’s not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s about kids, youth and parents and knowing that people get to be their full selves,” said Shurka. “Passing this bill is crucial. I think it’s vital to the lives of our youth.”

The Albany County hearing is the second on this topic. A county lawmaker told CBS6 News that about half a dozen people spoke out against the ban at the hearing last month. That lawmaker has also heard from voters who support it.

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