Straight Conversion Therapy?
Senate Bill 65, now in the Delaware State Legislature, is in review by the Elections and Government Affairs Committee. Should this be passed, gay conversion therapy would be prohibited in Delaware, and no psychologist, psychiatrist, school counselor, or anyone else in a position to commence or recommend gay conversion therapy could do so. They would be subject to professional discipline and would likely lose their credentials.
The language in SB 65 begins with an exhaustive recitation of various professional organizations that have made their own statements against gay conversion therapy. Forgive me for being too detailed-oriented, but accuracy is a valuable commodity. This list of organizations that decry the value of gay conversion therapy includes the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American School Counselor Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association Governing Council, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Pan American Health Organization, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists and finally, the American College of Physicians.
Historically, there have been many efforts to convince gay persons that they are sick, perverted creatures who need to change their ways or be subject to a variety of treatments that can only be described as torture. Procedures used over decades of abuse included chemical castration, shock treatment, nausea-inducing drugs given simultaneously with homoerotic stimuli, and other tactics too disturbing to share in this article.
Sigmund Freud “wrote that changing homosexuality was difficult and possible only under unusually favourable conditions, observing that ‘in general to undertake to convert a fully developed homosexual into a heterosexual does not offer much more prospect of success than the reverse’. Success meant making heterosexual feeling possible, not eliminating homosexual feelings.” (Wikipedia).
Alfred Kinsey was the first professional to claim that homosexuality was an acceptable way of life. The 1969 Stonewall Bar riot provided the motivation to combat conversion therapy. Then, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This was a major step forward in homosexuality being considered part of the normal world.
Yet conversion therapy continued. Most sources of conversion therapy, also known as restorative therapy, were found in religious circles. The organization that has taken the lead in advocating and lobbying for this has been the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). The history of this group is full of controversial “scientific” research, articles, and conclusions. They present a Sigmund Freud Award each year to the person who has contributed the most to the advancement of their cause. In 2004, the award winner, Robert L. Spitzer, who had conducted research on the ability of gays to modify sexual orientation, declined the award. In fact, Spitzer apologized for his previous claims of successful conversion of gays to a heterosexual lifestyle.
NARTH has had its share of controversy. Aside from the mission they have rallied around, upon which they were founded, one of NARTH’s Board members had to resign. It just did not reflect well upon NARTH when George Rekers was discovered having hired a male escort from a gay escort service for a ten-day European trip. While Rekers claimed that he was trying to convert this person to be straight, the escort had a much different opinion of the agenda. Reker wrote on his Facebook page, “I deliberately spend time with sinners with the loving goal to try to help them.” It should be noted that in addition to his presence on the NARTH Board of Directors, Rekers was a co-founder with James Dobson of the Family Research Council. Who was it who said, “Physician, heal thyself?”
One of the co-founders of NARTH, Joseph Nicolosi, passed away in March, 2017. His primary focus was founding and directing the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic. He stated he wanted to “assist men and women—mostly persons who are still at a crossroads about their sexual identity—to reduce their same-sex attractions and explore their heterosexual potential.”
Unfortunately, gay conversion therapy advocates and practitioners do more harm than simply generating faulty scientific research. Their work has resulted in suicides, broken families, and other fallout. In an interview with Huff Post, “TC” shared his story about being a survivor of conversion therapy. His parents arranged conversion therapy for him at the age of 15, after discovering that he was gay. The therapy sessions took place in the basement of a church after school hours. Treatment consisted of shock therapy for an hour at a time, physical abuse and harassment. The purpose of this was to “deconstruct” his identity, so they could then “reconstruct” an identity in keeping with their religious preconceptions.
As reported by Huff Post, TC escaped conversion therapy, by feigning complete rehabilitation. After returning to his hometown following a planned religious mission trip, TC shared, “I want people to know that conversion therapy is literal torture. The experience also lit a fire underneath me to prove everyone wrong. I am gay, but I am not worthless.” TC is a survivor, but there are many who have not.
There is reason for hope in the Supreme Court yet, in light of a very recent ruling. The Justices let stand a ban on gay conversion therapy passed in California in 2012. This ban focused on youths under the age of eighteen. By letting the ban stay in place, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban is constitutional and does not impede freedom of religion or the right of clergy to perform their duties.
When it comes to hate speech and the diatribes that proponents of hate perpetuate, it is often a good exercise to replace the demographics of the subjects of the hate speech. In other words, take the claims and beliefs of those who hate a certain segment of our society and replace the people referenced in the hate speech with their own demographics. In this instance, let us commence with a discussion about STRAIGHT conversion therapy. Imagine gay parents insisting that their straight children undergo straight conversion therapy. Ridiculous? So is gay conversion therapy.
If any readers of this column (or an acquaintance), have experienced gay conversion therapy, and are willing to share their story, please email me. This will be kept confidential. Email David Garrett