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Follow the Assembly line

How one-party rule in California yielded draconian legislation against ‘conversion therapy’

A rally at the Sacramento State Capitol in support of gay marriage Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/Zuma Press/Newscom

Follow the Assembly line
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Christians in China are used to living in a one-party dictatorship. Christians in the United States are not, so this spring many are gasping as the California Legislature moves toward passing Assembly Bill 2943, which makes “conversion therapy” illegal. Under the bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown expects to sign into law, it is likely to be unlawful to advise a same-sex-attracted adult on ways to fight his or her urges, even though many wish to do so (see sidebar below).

AB 2943 specifically bans “engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual,” defined as “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

Any counselor who receives any pay for such efforts would be liable. It would not matter whether a consenting adult requested such help. A therapist could be sued for millions of dollars in punitive damages if a client later claimed psychological harm from the treatment. The bill does not ban just one kind of therapy: “Conversion therapy” is a broad term that could encompass even the most basic of conversations between a counselor and the person seeking counsel.

AB 2943 cruised through the Democratic-controlled California Assembly (the lower house) on a largely party line vote, 50-18, on April 19. The Senate Judiciary Committee has slightly amended the bill so that it now emphasizes commercial transactions: Someone who volunteered advice would not be liable. On June 12, the committee approved the bill, 4-2, for forwarding to the Appropriations Committee (a technicality, as it is a non-spending measure). It then goes to the whole Senate, where Democrats hold a two-thirds majority, for a final vote.

Stopping it will take a miracle. Victory for this gag law will be no surprise to anyone who has followed the work of Equality California (EQCA), a multimillion-dollar pressure group that has corporate support from Microsoft, AT&T, Farmers Insurance, Southwest Airlines, Uber Eats, and more.

At the end of last year’s legislative session, EQCA boasted that California lawmakers had passed 127 of its bills. During this lawmaking term, EQCA is batting 1.000: Every bill it has sponsored has passed. Gov. Brown and all but one of the 27 Senate Democrats have a “100 percent equality score.”

EQCA is part of a pipeline. Two dozen staff members and visiting scholars at the Williams Institute (WI) at UCLA’s School of Law crank out purportedly scholarly research to promote what the gay lobby wants. They spread it with the aid of sympathetic journalists. A gay caucus in California’s Legislature applies pressure from within.

Marchers wear EQCA shirts at a Gay Pride parade in San Francisco.

Marchers wear EQCA shirts at a Gay Pride parade in San Francisco. Jeff Chiu/AP

Using academic cover from an orange brick building on the eastern edge of UCLA’s Westwood campus, WI’s goal is to conduct “research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy,” and then push it before “judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public.” WI has authored “dozens of public policy studies and law review articles; filed amicus briefs in key court cases; provided expert testimony at legislative hearings; been widely cited in the national media; and trained more than 3,000 judges in the area of sexual orientation law.”

The organization’s name comes from UCLA alumnus Charles R. Williams, who bankrolled the think tank with initial and ongoing endowments of over $15 million. Williams also sits on the “OutGiving Advisory Committee” for the Gill Foundation, one of the largest funders of gay lobbying efforts in the nation.

Other WI sponsors ($500,000 to $5 million) include Peter Cooper, secretary of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory; John McDonald, former CEO of Mullikin Medical Enterprises; and Mike Gleason, Wells Fargo senior financial advisor. Corporate logos rotate horizontally on WI’s home page every five seconds: Wells Fargo, Target, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and Bolthouse Farms.

EQCA’s “lead sponsors” include James Hormel, heir to the Hormel ham fortune, and openly gay Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Senate president pro tempore. Besides corporate support and robust funding, WI and EQCA share a strategic personal nexus. Two of EQCA’s board members, Roberta Conroy and Laurie Hasencamp, are members of WI’s “Founders Circle.” A third EQCA “lead sponsor,” Mike Lurey, served on WI’s Legal Council.

The pipeline has worked smoothly with AB 2943. Nine states had already told mental health professionals that they could not use conversion therapy for minors, but the campaign to prohibit it among consenting adults took a great leap forward on Jan. 24, 2018. That’s when a WI report declared “698,000 LGBT adults in the U.S. have received conversion therapy.”

UCLA’s School of Law where the Williams Institute is based

UCLA’s School of Law where the Williams Institute is based Coolcaesar/wikipedia

The report acknowledged that “conversion therapy” now emphasizes “talk therapy,” not physical pressure, but WI sensationally cataloged some past lowlights: electric shock, induced vomiting, and the snapping of elastic bands against skin. I don’t know of any group that still tries to torture gays, so WI seems to be doing a bait-and-switch when it minimizes the difference between failed past approaches and helpful current ones. When asked to respond to that characterization, WI declined to comment.

On the same day WI released its report, The New York Times published a column that used WI numbers under the headline, “I Was Tortured in Gay Conversion Therapy. And It’s Still Legal in 41 States.” A week later, Teen Vogue relied on WI for an article titled, “New Report Shows About 77,000 Young LGBTQ People Will Be Subjected to Conversion Therapy.”

Calling conversion therapy a “complete sham,” the Human Rights Campaign cited WI data, then asserted “this deceptive and dangerous practice” has led to a list of harms, including homelessness. The campaign rolled on through March, April, and May, with Time, The Washington Post, USA Today, Forbes, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, PBS, and NBC (at least three times) using WI research.

EQCA was also busy, issuing a Feb. 16 press release arguing “‘Conversion Therapy’ is Consumer Fraud.” On that day a gay member of the California Assembly, Evan Low, D-Silicon Valley, introduced AB 2943. Four days later EQCA said AB 2943 would be its leadoff hitter in a multi-bill legislative package for 2018.

While many races for seats in the 80-member Assembly are small-budget affairs, Low raised more than a million dollars for his 2016 campaign, per followthemoney.org. Low’s campaign donors included the California Association of Realtors ($37,700), AT&T ($27,500), Microsoft ($17,500), Chevron ($12,800), eBay ($11,000), Facebook ($10,100), Comcast ($8,000), and Amazon ($6,400). Low also took in $81,000 in donations from utility companies and $58,100 from six tribal gambling groups.

Evan Low

Evan Low Rich Pedroncelli/AP

These funds were on top of the traditional layer of Democratic funding from union groups, which totaled tens of thousands of dollars. Low won 70 percent of the vote in that race, handily beating Nicholas Sclavos, a Republican who raised a total of $6,316.

EQCA cranked up its campaign for AB 2943 with an LGBT “idea-sharing convention” at Paramount Studios on April 6. The headliner, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., attacked those who criticized the bill for trampling on freedom of religion: She called religious exemptions a license to discriminate that ran counter to the Constitution. Low and seven other members of the California Democrats’ LGBT Legislative Caucus pushed hard for the bill.

That caucus makes up 10 percent of the 80 legislators who are Democrats. Only 38 of California’s 120 legislative seats are filled by Republicans.

Since Gov. Brown took office seven years ago, the Legislature has passed, and Brown has signed, 45 EQCA-sponsored bills. One of those was last year’s SB 171, making California the first state in which individuals or their parents could choose to have “male,” “female,” or a “nonbinary gender marker” on their birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and ID cards.

EQCA calls Brown “the most LGBTQ-supportive governor in California history.” EQCA spokesperson Sam Garrett-Pate added, “Gov. Brown has been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community throughout his career,” and cited Brown’s signing of SB 1172, “the original legislation to protect LGBTQ minors from this practice.”

Before AB 2943 was passed by the Assembly, gay caucus member Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, referenced her resumé in supporting the bill: “Rising as the only licensed clinical practitioner in this house, I will just say that this is a practice that has long been discredited.” She added, “And for those who are still worried about their First Amendment rights, you can still try to ‘pray the gay away’ if you’d like, but it hasn’t proven to be effective.”

‘Countless numbers testified before the state Legislature—ex-gays, ex-lesbians, ex-transgenders —telling their story of how they received counseling, support, and were no longer bound by such feelings.’ —Brad Dacus

Such statements reveal the “utmost of bigotry and discrimination,” according to Brad Dacus, founder of Pacific Justice Institute. Is conversion therapy effective? Dacus: “Countless numbers testified before the state Legislature—ex-gays, ex-lesbians, ex-transgenders—telling their story of how they received counseling, support, and were no longer bound by such feelings.” (See testimony in the June 16 Saturday Series article at wng.org.)

Dacus said they were ignored. He called AB 2943 “legislation that attempts to make it a scientific fact that such transformations are simply impossible and that these people don’t exist”—but since they do, the bill is “ugly and so inhumane.”

‘And yet it moves’

Students who don’t know much about history may vaguely remember the gagging of Galileo in 1633: Told not to say the Earth moves around the sun, he may nevertheless have whispered in Italian, “e pur si muove,” and yet it moves.

Almost four centuries later, California legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown are on the verge of commanding counselors never to say sexual orientation in some LGBT persons is fluid—but my four-word summary of developmental psychologist Lisa Diamond’s highly regarded research is: and yet it moves.

Sexual Fluidity, Diamond’s 2009 book published by Harvard University Press, won that year’s “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues Distinguished Book Award,” presented by the American Psychological Association. She cited studies of “change and fluidity in same-sex sexuality that contradict conventional models of sexual orientation as a fixed and uniformly early-developing trait.” New Scientist headlined its interview with Diamond, “Sexuality is fluid—it’s time to get past ‘born this way.’”


Diamond Handout

Conservatives may not like Diamond’s findings because they indicate heterosexuality is not fixed, but fluidity is one reason why pederasty has long-lasting effects. Sexually abused children may have sleep disturbances, eating problems, and a variety of psychological consequences. The National Center for PTSD notes that abused children often exhibit post-traumatic stress, which includes showing sexual behavior or seductiveness that is inappropriate for their age. Humans are overwhelmingly heterosexual, but sexually abused children may develop other sexual propensities.

Nancy Pearcey, author of Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality, has tracked Diamond’s presentations at academic gatherings since publication of Sexual Fluidity. At a Cornell event sponsored by LGBT and feminist groups, Diamond reported that among those who identify as homosexual, 40 percent of men and 48 percent of women reported sexual attraction to the opposite sex in the previous year.

Furthermore, 12 percent of gay men and 9 percent of lesbians reported having sex with someone of the opposite sex during the past year. This fluidity tracks with what the most-used liberal provider of sex education courses, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, reports: “People’s understanding of their gender identity may change over the course of their lifetimes.”

Diamond is a lesbian feminist who cannot be dismissed as a right-wing agitator, so her research provoked cognitive dissonance among gay publications. The Advocate, America’s oldest and largest LGBT publication, began one article in 2014, “A growing body of research indicates that for some people, sexual attractions change over time.” The Advocate then hastened to say that the research was “not an endorsement” of conversion therapy.

The research in Diamond’s Harvard book was on women, but she told The Advocate she is now “amazed by how much fluidity and variability men report as well.” (The Apostle Paul in Chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians observes that “men who practice homosexuality” are among those who will not “inherit the kingdom of God. … And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”)

“Conversion therapy” is a term that casts a wide net. One organization of those who believe change is possible, the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, doesn’t like the term, since it suggests that one size may fit all: “Alliance therapists practice from a variety of mainstream approaches and models. What unites us is our adherence to scientifically confirmed practices and supporting the autonomy and the self-determination of our clients.”

The Alliance’s first guiding principle emphasizes choice: “Mental health clients have the right to explore, with the assistance of a supportive therapist, questions or issues in their lives that may be causing them concern or distress, and to participate in the setting of counseling goals that are compatible with their freely chosen personal or religious values.”

California is a “pro-choice” state on abortion, but one-party rulers are trying to eliminate choice in LGBT counseling. If gays or lesbians in California who want to change seek professional help, it appears they will soon have to head to back alleys. Government officials may decree that LGBT sexual orientation cannot change—and yet it moves. —Marvin Olasky

California monocracy

The WI/EQCA/legislator/governor pipeline is effective, and most California voters seem to support it and the Democratic Party. With the exception of two years (1995-1996), Democrats have controlled both legislative houses since 1970. Democrats are also financially dominant: From 2011 to 2016, California Democrats received $200 million in contributions and Republicans $97 million. The Democratic edge for the June 2018 primaries was 4 to 1: From Jan. 1 to May 19, the California Democratic Party spent $7.1 million, Republicans $1.8 million.

State Democratic Party convention delegates resolved last year to “condemn corporations and lobbyists that finance political campaigns, as they perpetuate a culture of corruption and cronyism,” but more than 25 percent of its 2016 state campaign contributions—$7.3 million—came from utility, telecommunications, and healthcare companies. Tribal gambling groups, oil companies (like Chevron), and insurance companies also contributed big money.

State legislators also score freebies. In a March 2018 article, the Los Angeles Times reported that Senate pro Tempore Emeritus Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, accepted tickets to events and expensive dinners from Planned Parenthood. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, racked up free tickets to the Grammy Awards, Dodgers baseball, and USC Trojan games. Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, enjoyed a $5,000 trip to Bonn, Germany, from renewable energy lobbyist Energy Foundation.

These gifts came months after former California Sen. Ronald Calderon, D-Montebello, pleaded guilty to federal public corruption charges for taking over $150,000 in bribes. Calderon pocketed money from a Long Beach hospital owner to prolong a healthcare fraud scheme. He also took payments from undercover FBI agents posing as independent filmmakers wanting changes to the state’s film tax credit program.

Calderon was the second state Democratic senator to wander into the bureau’s public corruption net. Earlier in 2017, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for bribery and racketeering charges—including an offer to smuggle weapons from the Philippines for undercover FBI agents. Yee’s arrest was part of an investigation into a San Francisco organized crime group run by Yee’s longtime associate, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.

One-party rule is a California problem, but Republicans also face unwelcome publicity about gifts received. The Los Angeles Times noted that avid golfer and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, allowed a prison guards union to pay his greens fees at an exclusive course in Pebble Beach. The Times also reported that a foundation financed by Chevron, Tesoro, and Shell paid for a $12,291 trip to England and Ireland by former Minority Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley. —J.L.

Jim Long

Jim is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.


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