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Public hearing airs tales of suicide, depression from conversion therapy

Mike Desmond
The Erie County Legislature is considering a measure making conversaion therapy illegal.

No one showed up for an Erie County Legislature public hearing Thursday night to support conversion therapy. The county is considering a proposal to ban the controversial therapy aimed at "curing" homosexuality.

The proposal has been around for a while, but stalled while a conservative alliance controlled the legislature. That changed with the past election, when Democrats took control.

Legislator Patrick Burke revived the conversion therapy ban proposal. The South Buffalo Democrat said he will move to put the proposal before the full legislature on Thursday. There were no members of the legislature minority at the public hearing.

Several speakers said conversion therapy occurs in this area, but it is almost clandestine. They said tens of thousands of young people still are forced into the therapy on the discredited basis that it works, potentially causing psychological damage.

Bobby Kandar said he was sent to conversion therapy and was treated badly.

"All medical professionals take an oath to do no harm. That is their highest prerogative and our laws hold them to that public promise," Kandar said. "We hold medical professionals accountable for their actions. We ensure drugs are safe and make it illegal to prescribe ones that aren't. Medicine is supposed to heal and make its patients stronger people, but, instead, this therapy made me feel fragile, insecure and depressed."

Retired librarian Carol Speser said she and a guy she dated in college both realized they were gay and were threatened with conversion. Speser said the pair saw only one way out.

"Not being able to change what we were, who we were, that was the catalyst for us making a suicide pact and acting on it," Speser said. "Me, I woke up in intensive care and I was eventually whisked away to a mental hospital, but John, he died. I'll be 70 soon. John is forever 21, 20 and forever gone."

A local Episcopal priest likened conversion therapy to child abuse. The Very Rev. Ellen Brauza spoke as executive director of the Western New York Anti-Violence Project. Brauza said the Episcopal Church opposes conversion therapy.

"We believe that LGBTQ persons can live lives of freedom and integrity, as they are, and that God accepts them as they are, loves them and will assist them in living their lives," Brauza said. "However, we recognize that there are other sorts of religious leaders in the community, who remain convinced that LGBTQ persons must somehow change who they are in order to be acceptable to God."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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