Kenneth P. LaValle — the New York state senator who represents parts of Brookhaven and the East End and longtime supporter of Stony Brook University — is one of only four state senators who voted against legislation banning the practice of gay conversion therapy.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on Friday, Jan. 25 along with the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.
“We are once again sending a clear and proud message that there is no place for hate in our state, and anyone who engages in bigotry and discrimination will be held accountable,” Cuomo stated in a press release.
In an email sent to The Statesman through LaValle’s director of communications, the Republican senator stated, “While I am personally opposed to Conversion Therapy, I believe the senate legislation that we were asked to vote on concerning conversion therapy can have negative ramifications on the existing professional misconduct system.”
The new law, he explained, deviates from the current method for banning a medical practice, in which professionals on state boards must review whether a practice violates medical standards.
“This bill in contravention to that process declares the conversion therapy practices on youths to be misconduct, thus removing that expert analysis,” LaValle stated, adding that he has “reservations about the legislature intervening in a medical disciplinary process that has served the public for many years.”
LaValle has helped secure state funding for several projects at Stony Brook University over his more than 40 years in office. Perhaps most well known is the roughly $27 million football stadium which bears his name.
In 2009, students led a short-lived campaign to rename Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium after the senator voted against a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. Senate bill 66003 was defeated on the floor by a decisive margin.
“At the present time, society is equally divided on the issue of gay marriage,” LaValle wrote in a statement defending his position.
LaValle also voted against the 2011 Marriage Equality Act that ultimately legalized same sex marriage in New York.
Although there have been no calls to rename LaValle Stadium as of late, students in the LGBTQ community have voiced concerns over the senator’s stance on GENDA.
“It feels like he doesn’t actually care about the lives of queer people and is bringing up minor flaws in [the legislation] to cover up a lack of empathy,” Charlie Scott, president of Stony Brook’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) club and a sophomore journalism major, said. “Anyone with a brain can tell that conversion therapy is malpractice, and it seems odd that he’s muddying the waters.”
Carine Green is treasurer for House of SHADE — a campus club for black members of the LGBTQ* community and a freshman political science and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies double major. He believes that gender conversion therapy is unconstitutional and illegal on a number of grounds.
“If such practices are allowed, why are there no practices legally allowed to assist with changing the color of one’s skin, or the way someone speaks?” they said. “It is because these things are the very foundation of who we are. If history is any indication, conversion therapy should’ve been outlawed years ago.”