By Shane Gill
“Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”
– United States President Barack Obama’s statement on Reparative Therapy, also known as Gay Conversion Therapy in April 2015
The statement came on the back of an online petition that garnered 120,958 signatures. Leelah Alcorn was a young transgender woman. She was raised in a conservative Christian home. She came out to her parents at 14. At 16, her parents deny her request for Sex reassignment therapy. Instead, they ship her off to reparative therapy. She then makes the mistake of expressing her attraction to the boys in her class. Her parents remove her from school and restrict her access to social media. On Sunday, December 27, 2014 Leelah leaves a suicide note on Tumblr and ends her life by walking out onto a highway and gets hit by a truck.
Attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation have been around for a long time and have manifested in many, sometimes nightmarish ways.
In 1971, Eugen Steinach developed the “Steinach operation” where a homosexual man was first unilaterally castrated, then had the testicular tissue of a heterosexual man transplanted into the scrotum. The belief was that the man would be “cured” after the procedure and go on to have a normal life, getting married and having children. The experiment was a failure. Then we had aversion therapy where gay men were shown same-sex erotica and given electric shocks and nausea-inducing drugs to condition their brain to associate these images with unpleasant sensations. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. And still in 2015, we have people being convinced they’re defective.
Today we have Gay conversion camps and clinics where men come together and attempt to pray away the gay. They check into weekend programs where they pay about $650 US dollars to get six meals and spend the weekend feeling horribly guilty about themselves. They are told by camp counsellors, most of which are people who have “successfully” gone through gay conversion, that the feelings they have are wrong and need to be corrected. That they are broken human beings that need fixing, and that God doesn’t love them the way they are.
Denial. Self-hate. Guilt.
Rich Wyler, the founder of one such conversion camp, says that almost all the men that come to his program are religious. Could it by any chance be because they feel their communities do not accept them? Of chance perhaps? Sounds like a good use of a weekend doesn’t it? Is it any wonder that so many people that have undergone this torment, end up depressed, having anxiety issues, using drugs and taking their lives?
Because conversion therapy is not a mainstream psychological treatment, there are no professional standards or guidelines for how it is conducted. There isn’t any scientific evidence that this even works. It’s top drawer pseudoscience.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,”
– Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to President Barack Obama
Harm. That’s what it does.
Imagine yourself constantly being made to feel bad about who you are. Imagine your parents in tears thinking that they did something wrong in your upbringing that has led to you being defective.
Dr Joseph Nicolosi, is the author of Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach. He works at a gay conversation camp in the United States. He was asked on a Vice documentary, “What would you say if your son came to you and said he was gay”. His answer gave a deep insight. “I would say what did I do wrong?” No, Joe. You didn’t do anything wrong.
Gay people are not a product of failed parenting. Gay people are not someone else’s mistake. Can we please start looking at them as human beings? Is that really too much to ask? And so many people wonder why gay people feel persecuted? This is why.
In the same interview Dr Nicolosi was asked “Do you think you can live your life as a devout Christian or Catholic and be gay?” His answer? “No you can’t be, it’s incompatible. You cannot be Christian and gay, you can’t. You can be a homosexual and Christian, but you can’t be gay and Christian.” Wrap your head around that.
Exodus International was a non-profit ex-gay Christian network. They connected organisations that peddled reparative therapy. They closed their doors in June of 2013. An announcement was made on its website by the entity’s President Alan Chambers. “I’m sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I’m sorry some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change.”
In a heart-wrenching interview with Anderson Cooper, Alan admitted that promises, which were made to people that couldn’t be kept. That people suffered through guilt and depression for and ended that his organisation could not guarantee. “I know that there are people who have taken their lives because they felt so ashamed of who they are, felt like god couldn’t love them as they are. And that is something that will haunt me till the day I die.”
Anderson asked, “Do you now believe that it is possible to change your sexual orientation?”
“No, I don’t”, replied Alan in a straight face.
The full interview is on YouTube and if you have the time, I urge you to watch it.
So can we stop this? Can we stop making people suffer through guilt and shame for being who they are? It isn’t right. Any decent human being will tell you making people feel this way is a terrible thing to do. We’re all human. We all bleed red. Let’s try some acceptance. Let’s stop trying to fix things that aren’t broken. No more have to die for this. No more.