"Praise God, I've been set free from drugs, and alcohol, and lesbianism."
Ex-gay testimonials were abundant Tuesday night at Busboys and Poets, a popular restaurant, bookstore and meeting place in the District of Columbia. Individuals who had participated in same sex attraction rehabilitation therapy gathered to expose the damaging pseudoscience, sharing hilarious and heartbreaking anecdotes as they described the latest tactics of the anti-gay movement.
Nearing the 38th anniversary of the American Psychological Association declassifying homosexuality as a perversion, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal firm "fighting hate and teaching tolerance," sponsored the event along with Truth Wins Out, an organization pushing back against homophobia.
Together, these groups have been recording survivor stories and pursuing the religious extremists offering faith-based propaganda as medical fact. And Tuesday's presentation was a chance for concerned citizens to get more acquainted with the main characters of this modern day tragedy.
Growing up Mormon, Sam Wolfe, a Staff Attorney for the SPLC leading the LGBTQ Rights Project, encountered reparative therapy first-hand. According to Wolfe, most participants don't buy it. But the silver lining, especially for youth, is a shared experience and an opportunity to make friends-- even date.
The kids are confused, feeling that pressure to change. Even worse is the expectant look on parents faces. Everyone is desperate for therapy to "work" and the afflicted to be "cured."
Unfortunately, conditioning heterosexuality is a pipe dream for all parties involved.
Wayne Besen, the founding executive director of Truth Wins Out, has pursued groups like the National Association of Research & Therapy of Homosexuality and International Healing Foundation for years. He watched closely as fundamentalist organizations took a more manipulative approach to undermining gay rights and leaders like Richard Cohen, author of Coming Out Straight, awarded themselves titles like "certified sexual reorientation coach."
Much like pregnancy crisis centers offer volunteers instead of nurses, these rehabilitation facilities provide doctors of theology instead of real psychologists. The tactics are questionable and the therapy is as dangerous as it is dishonest.
Here are some pearls of wisdom from Cohen's book:
Having an artistic nature may also be a burden if the family rejects or misunderstands the child's gifts. The sensitive child in an insensitive environment experiences undue stress on his mental, emotional and spiritual development.Yes, artistic or creative children are doomed to be gay. But also:
A more masculine girl or a more feminine boy, by nature, may also be the subject of ridicule by parents, siblings, peers, and society. It is the square peg in the round hole effect, causing the child to doubt his or her original nature. These characteristics are defined as "gender non-conforming" behaviors. The child will grow confident in his talents when he is understood, accepted and encouraged. If he experiences or perceives criticism, the results will be psycho-social-biological damage. Society’s differential response to "sissies" and "tomboys" may be one reason for the difference in numbers between male and female homosexuals.This so-called expert brags he has recovered from "unwanted same sex attraction" himself. But his affirmations are merely assumptions deeply rooted in archaic notions of gender roles-- which may explain why therapeutic exercises are athletic for men and domestic for women. Nothing portrays these dichotomous pink and blue absurdities more accurately than the campy indie film But I'm a Cheerleader.
Like most dark humor, these representations of conversion therapy are funny because they're true.
Men play football and change oil. Women scrub floors and change babies. And supposedly, this will reorient their sexual orientation.
Other theories for "healing" homosexuality are equally doubtful. According to Cohen and his followers, if you get the love you need from the parent of the same sex, then you won't be gay. If you somehow missed this opportunity as a child, you need to be cradled. Or, you and a partner can remedy your parental detachment with non-sexual naked hugging.
Misguided ex-gay facilitators have been in motion for almost two decades, reactionary to the LGBTQ community's increased visibility. During an explosion of gay and lesbian individuals coming out in the early '90s, opponents decided the best way to combat the "gay agenda" was to create programs shame it back into the closet.
In 1998, the year Will & Grace premiered on network television, 15 DC organizations had spent one million dollars advertising the notion that people could "pray away the gay." The following groups are still operating with the same goals, hoping to disqualify people as well as their feelings and relationships:
- Exodus International
- People Can Change
- Family Watch International
- Homosexuals Anonymous
- International Healing Foundation
- JONAH International
- Transforming Congregations
- True freedom Trust
- PATH-- a coalition of these and many, many more
That's an overwhelming amount of organizations denying people life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. According to the APA, there is no evidence reparative therapy works. In fact, it's hurting its participants, causing anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behaviors including suicide.
In the midst of such a pervasive and alarming phenomenon, the SPLC and TWO have been capturing survivor stories, hoping to reach those bullied into conversion before it's too late. Nick Cavnar, a survivor and YouTube sensation, spoke at Busboys and Poets about finding his way back.
Cavnar said these programs "keep people stuck in a state of unreality" while telling them "what's really going on with you doesn't count." The mantra is fake it until you make it-- but you never will.
Furthermore,these "therapists" are promoting stereotypes surrounding homosexuality. Patients are told if they continue with their alternative lifestyle, they will catch a disease, become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and they will struggle with monogamy. In short, they are doomed, they will fail, and they won't ever be happy.
These men and women are driven by fear to do something unnatural. But no one is really changing-- they're just agreeing to live in denial. But that's what happens when a line is drawn between faith and sexuality, and people are asked to choose.
Besides the obvious, there are several reasons to be upset, like tax dollars paying for these programs.
Also frightening is how bad science can influence politics and prolong discrimination. As long as same-sex attraction can be cured, same-sex marriage can be illegal. As long as homosexuality is a psychological disorder, presidential candidates can publicly oppose gays in the military.
On a national level, these special interest groups are standing in the way of progress and they're targeting kids. Only after Change.org started a petition did Apple rethink the ex-gay app for the iPhone.
And internationally, they're capable of so much more. While they might be failing here, Uganda has embraced their ideologies and seems capable of legislating their hate. The same is true anywhere civil rights have less protection than the United States.
These programs cannot continue to operate unchecked. Lies cannot continue to be offered as facts. People's lives cannot continue to be ruined by homophobic nonsense.