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NY state senator calls on Google to remove conversion therapy app

NY state senator calls on Google to remove conversion therapy app


State Senator Brad Hoylman sponsored a bill that bans the practice in New York

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google’s Play Store is currently hosting a gay conversion therapy app from a religious group called Living Hope Ministries. The app gives users access to recordings of sermons, text devotionals, and at least one podcast; there’s a section for “help,” which appears to mostly contain stories telling gay readers that their sexuality can be ignored or changed.

For New York State Senator Brad Hoylman — whose bill prohibiting conversion therapy in New York was recently signed into law, and who represents the district where Google has its New York City headquarters — that’s unconscionable. “Google [is] planning to have about 7,000 employees in our Senate district, so I would urge them to remove the app post-haste,” he says. “I’m hopeful that they’ll see the harm that this kind of message sends to the kids and families.” New York is the 15th state to ban the practice of conversion therapy — the widely-discredited pseudoscientific method of attempting to change a person’s sexuality from gay to straight through prayer.

In December, after a petition and widespread outcry, Apple removed the app, which promoted conversion therapy for young adults, from its App Store. Amazon followed suit soon thereafter, but the app is still live on Google’s Play Store. Living Hope Ministries is a nonprofit, anti-gay, religious organization based in Arlington, TX that “proclaims a Christ-centered, Biblical world-view of sexual expression rooted in one man and one woman in a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage for life,” according to their website.

Reached for comment, Living Hope denied performing conversion therapy. ”We believe that by aligning our hearts and minds with the Creator’s intention in our creation,” the company said. “The app is a free resource as are most of our services.”

Hoylman also sponsored New York’s Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which added gender identity and expression protections to New York’s civil rights law — meaning that it’s now illegal to discriminate against transgender people across the entire state. According to Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle, the bill had been stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate for 16 years, despite passing the Democratic-controlled state Assembly every year since 2008.

Living Hope Ministries was founded in 1989 and, in their words, has since “developed into a world-wide ministry and outreach to those seeking sexual and relational wholeness in Christ.” Conversion therapy was a popular topic in Hollywood last year, with the high-profile movies Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post both appearing on-screen in 2018; the films helped generate buzz around campaigns to ban conversion therapy across the country, according to a report by The Associated Press. “OK, not to be dramatic, but it’s not every day you find out your baby book (turned movie) has actually brought thousands to the fight against conversion therapy,” tweeted Garrard Conley, the author of the book Boy Erased, on which the movie is based.

“I think Google should do the right thing and remove this app from their store immediately,” says Hoylman. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Update 1/29 11:45 AM ET: Updated with comment from Living Hope Ministries.