Matthew Shurka knows who he is and what his sexuality is.
But as a teenager, his father tried to convince him otherwise — that is, attempt to cure him of being a gay man in America.
“I was sixteen years old when I first started conversion therapy. I was told that there was scientific evidence, and that there is a psychological condition and you can change from being a homosexual male to a heterosexual male through therapy,” Shurka said. “He was not OK with me being gay. He thought it was the best thing to do in our society.”
Going for gay conversion therapy through a licensed therapist is now no longer an option for minors in New Jersey, where it was banned thanks to Governor Chris Christie, who signed a bill outlawing the controversial practice on Monday.
Christie – a Republican — says he believes the health risks involved in trying to talk a young person out of their homosexuality outweigh concerns about government overstepping its bounds.
Matthew – whose family had him see four different therapists over five years until he was 21-years old – submitted testimony for the legislation and says he’s grateful for its passage.
“According the theory of conversion therapy, for the young gay man to really have male bonding, they want to keep women out, and let the boy saturate himself with men in a non-sexual way,” said Shurka.
“The therapy went as far as, you know, including Viagra pills, as far as including all these different kind of techniques . . . for masturbation,” said Shurka.
That – according to other past conversion therapy patients – was just the beginning.”
But licensed Counselor Tara King believes in the therapy and offers herself – as proof.
“I didn’t leave homosexuality because I was unhappy. I left because it was a contradiction to my faith. Talk therapy is talk therapy. There’s no danger in talking,” said King.
Maybe not, but Matthew Shurka – now 25-years old, gay, and proud — says conversion therapy can inflict serious emotional harm on adolescents trying to come to terms with their sexual preference.
Shurka concluded, “As a teenager, I gave it my best. Today it looks absolutely ridiculous.”