by Tessie Austin
Conversion therapy can be known by many names, such as reparative therapy, ex-gay therapy, Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE), and aversion therapy, just to name a few. Many of us may have endured lectures about religion, how we haven’t found the right man/woman, and how it’s just a phase. Conversion therapy by any name is on another level. It is the act of trying to forcibly change one’s sexuality and many in the LGBT+ community have been subjected to it, often against their will.
The therapies involve psychological or spiritual interventions, sexual celibacy, exposure to heterosexual pornography, institutionalization, shock therapy, aversive conditioning, religious indoctrination, and even exorcism to “cure” or change a person’s sexual orientation.
Even though these methods are called counseling or therapy, none of the major health or science professions condone or approve of treating homosexuality as an illness (CONVERSIONTHERAPYSURVIVORS.ORG).
Thirteen states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington – and the District of Columbia have outlawed conversion therapy. Estimates are that 700,000 youth and adults have been subjected to these sketchy tactics over the years. While many states are adopting legislation to ban the practices, they are still quite common in some states and extremely damaging to the individual.
One such individual who lived through this experience shared their story of what going through such a program was like and how it shaped their future. Roberta Nelson came out, unwillingly, at age 13 when their mother read their diary. Roberta then went through their teenage years subjected to various types of counseling and therapy, most either directed or recommended by those associated with their Evangelical Christian faith.
Roberta states that in 1997, at age 17, their mother shipped them off to their father’s house in West Virginia, a man they barely knew, because they refused to stop seeing their girlfriend at the time. It was there that they were “enrolled” in Exodus International, which had been around for about 20 years at the time.
The premise of the Exodus program was that ex-gay or reformed couples would lead their participants through a “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ” program. Roberta stated that in their group, ages ranged from 13-17, Roberta being the eldest of the group. By this point in life, Roberta had come to terms with the fact that being gay was ok and being underage, this was something that they just had to deal with.
When asked how the program culminated, Roberta advised that one of the leaders of the group backslid and cheated with a same-sex partner. Because the local chapter was located in a small town in West Virginia, there were no other “reformed” couples to lead the group and it was disbanded.
After surviving the chaos of their teen years, from individual counseling, religious leader counseling and finally the Exodus program, Roberta went on to receive their Masters in Theological Studies with a focus in Religion, Ethics and Politics from Harvard Divinity School.
Prior to earning that culminating degree, Roberta found spirituality in Buddhism at age 20 after the barrage of damage caused by the Evangelical Christian pastors and counselors that tried to convert them during their teenage years. Roberta now works as the Program Coordinator at Vanderbilt University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Life center. The center works as a place of affirmation for individuals of all identities and as a resource for information and support about gender and sexuality.
Many youth aren’t as lucky as Roberta. Many lack a support system. They deal with depression, confusion, loss of trust, PTSD, and many other harms.
According to a 2013 survey by conversiontherapysurvivors.org, 76% of participants of ex-gay therapies felt “harmed” by the process. The highest forms of harm they reported were shame (80%), emotional harm (76%), depression (71%) and reinforced self-hate (62%).
Youth who are subjected to conversion therapy are eight times more likely to attempt suicide according to NCLrights.org. Let those statistics sink in. It’s beyond time for conversion therapy to be banned worldwide.
- In 2014 NCLR launched #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy
- 13 states have laws on the books banning conversion therapy
- 14 other states have worked on legislation over the past two years to ban conversion therapy
- 40 municipal ordinances in cities around the United States have enacted bans on conversion therapy
- 5 cities passed non-binding resolutions or proclamations declaring opposition to conversion therapy
- In 1973 homosexuality was removed as a mental diagnosis from the American Psychiatric Association (APA)
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry finds no evidence to support any “therapeutic intervention” operating under the premise of curing sexual orientation
- American College of Physicians does not support the use of reparative therapy
- American Counseling Association passed a resolution in 1998 with respect to sexual orientation and mental health. This resolution specifically notes that ACA opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation.
http://www.nclrights.org/ – #BornPerfect – working to end conversion therapy by passing laws across the country. You can find out how to get a law passed in your area from their website.
http://conversiontherapysurvivors.org/ – Stories of individuals who survived and links to groups for survivors
http://SPLCenter.org – Southern Poverty Law Center. Exposing the dangers of conversion therapy and working to ban the discredited practice