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Teen urges Gov. Christie to ban gay-conversion therapy for minors

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 9:55 a.m. CST

(MCT) — TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey teenager who told his high school classmates, and then 1.7 million YouTube viewers, that he would stop “acting the part of straight” is hoping to translate Internet fame into support for a proposed state law that seeks to protect gay kids.

Jacob Rudolph, 18, of Parsippany, wrote an online petition urging Gov. Chris Christie to back a bill outlawing “conversion therapy” for minors, a treatment that attempts to turn gay people straight.

Nearly 100,000 people from around the country had signed the petition as of Wednesday since it was posted Saturday.

“Social media has allowed people who traditionally did not have a voice to have one now,” Rudolph said Wednesday.

The legislation has not been considered in the state Senate or the Assembly, and Christie’s office said the governor will wait to see if it passes before he makes a decision on it.

Rudolph, a Parsippany High School senior, first attracted attention last month after he delivered a speech telling his classmates he is “LGBT” — an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. He said in an interview that he considers the term more “contemporary” than “gay.”

His father later posted a video of the speech, which Rudolph gave after winning the “class actor” award during a high school ceremony, on YouTube.

“I’ve been acting every single day of my life. You see, I’ve been acting as someone I’m not. When most of you see me every day, you see me acting the part of ‘straight Jacob.’ I am, in fact, an LGBT teen,” he says in the video. “So take me, leave me or move me out of the way because I am what I am and that’s how I’m going to act from now on.”

Rudolph said he decided to use the attention he gained from the video to fight conversion therapy, which he sees as “a human rights issue.”

“This particular issue to me stood out among the rest,” he said. “Kids are being hurt — kids I can relate to.”

The petition says conversion therapy should be outlawed because “major psychological, psychiatric and counseling associations have found this ineffective and scientifically unsound practice to be harmful for young people.”

It is addressed to Christie, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak.

Drewniak said he has received “many emails” since the petition went online.

The sponsor of the bill to ban conversion therapy, Democratic state Sen. Ray Lesniak, said he thinks the petition will spur action in the Legislature.

“This is obviously extremely helpful to make our case for it,” he said.

The petition had received more than 98,000 electronic signatures as of Wednesday evening. While some supporters identified themselves as New Jersey residents, most said they were from other states, ranging from Massachusetts to Oklahoma.

The legislation in question would prohibit licensed professionals, such as psychiatrists or social workers, from engaging in “sexual orientation change efforts” with a person under 18 years old. The bill does not apply to religious officials.

It was scheduled for a vote in the state Senate Health Committee in December, but it was held at the last minute because experts Lesniak wanted to testify were unable to attend the hearing, he said.

The senator said at the time that he would bring the bill back in January, but it still has not been taken up. On Wednesday, he said he had not brought it forward again because he had been diverted by the upcoming fight over the governor’s budget proposal and other developments in Trenton. But the petition reminded him to move the bill, he said.

“As a result of this, I’m going to make sure we move it again. I’m a little embarrassed I let it slip,” he said.

Several proponents of conversion therapy attended the committee hearing in December hoping to testify against the bill.

Gregory Quinlan, director of government relations for New Jersey Family First, who calls himself “an ex-gay,” said the bill would take the right to make important decisions away from parents.

He said he would return to the State House when the legislation is finally brought up for consideration.

“The bill is a vast overreach by government to co-opt personal, parental and professional discretion in situations that require serious judgment,” he said in remarks written for the December hearing.

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