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The Truth About "Converting" Gay People

What is the "Ex-Gay" Movement?

The "ex-gay" movement is comprised of religious-based organizations and quasi-mental-health groups that claim gay and lesbian people can change their sexual orientation through a combination of repentance, intense religious devotion, bible study, and "reparative therapy." These organizations claim that gay and lesbian people are in a sick or fallen state and must be healed from sinful and unnatural disorder. Only through healing can gay or lesbian people become a "whole person." Generally, these groups make little or no mention of bisexual or transgender people.

Most mainstream Christian and Jewish leaders and traditions reject "reparative therapy." In fact, most religions promote love and acceptance and work to end discrimination against all people including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Many of "ex-gay" groups and their beliefs are often tied to other groups with extreme, conservative political agendas. Close financial links exist between "ex-gay" groups and major right-wing political groups, including:

  • The American Family Association
  • The Center for Reclaiming America
  • Minnesota Family Council
  • The Christian Coalition
  • Concerned Women for America
  • Family Research Council,
  • The National Campaign to Protect Marriage
  • Focus on the Family

What Other Beliefs Do "Ex-Gay" Groups Have About Homosexuality?

"Ex-gay" groups believe that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice," a set of behaviors, rather than an orientation—part of who a person is. "Ex-gay" groups believe these behaviors are the result of a combination of factors including poor parenting, inability to develop "healthy" friendships with people of the same gender, and childhood sexual abuse. These groups believe that the damage caused by these factors can be undone through something called "reparative therapy."

What is Reparative Therapy?

Because reparative therapy assumes that homosexuality is the result of "faulty learning," an attempt is made to change homosexual behaviors by "teaching" subjects how to "be heterosexual" through various kinds of outdated and discredited aversion therapy as well as conditioning therapy. Some therapy stresses the "teaching" of proper gender role behaviors to help change sexual orientation. So, gay men may be taught to play sports like football, and lesbians may be taught how to put on makeup.

Is There evidence That "Ex-gay" Groups and/or Reparative Therapy Are Effective?

There is no reliable scientific research to indicate that any change in sexual orientation has occurred as a result of these programs and leaders of "ex-gay" organizations have stated that nearly all "therapy" ends in failure to change a person's emotional and sexual attractions. There has never been a study published in a peer-reviewed journal supporting "ex-gay" therapy. Professional peer review is standard for all scientific research and proposed care.

Could Such Credible Opposition Be Wrong?

"Ex-gay" programs have been denounced by every respected medical and mental health care organization and child welfare agency in America, including:

  • American Psychiatric Association
  • American Psychological Association
  • American Medical Association
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Association of School Administrators
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • The Interfaith Alliance Foundation
  • National Academy of Social Workers
  • National Education Association
  • American Counseling Association
  • World Health Organization
  • Council on Child and Adolescent Health

Are "Ex-Gay" Groups Harmful?

According to Phyllis Hart, an evangelical psychotherapist and former seminary professor, these movements have a "lethal—or nearly lethal effect on sensitive, deeply spiritual gay Christians who have spent the better part of their lives trying to be heterosexual, in a vain attempt to become something they could not." Survivors of the "ex-gay" movement are often "shells of the people they could have become if they would have accepted their gay orientation years before."

Michael Bussey and Gary Cooper, co-founders of the "ex-gay" ministry, Exodus International, reported that "ex-gay" programs reinforce feelings of guilt and failure in their participants. After they accepted their gay identity and their love for each other, they denounced the organization they helped to create as fraudulent and indicated that many of their clients become profoundly depressed and entertained thoughts of suicide when they found themselves unable to change their sexual orientation. They also stated that in their personal experience "not one person was healed" of homosexuality.

What Are the Prominent "Ex-Gay" Groups?

Exodus International is an umbrella organization that claims it has 75-110 affiliate groups throughout the country. Most indicate their affiliation in their literature. Courage is a Roman Catholic group that promotes celibacy for homosexuals. Evergreen International is a Mormon (Latter Day Saints) treatment program. Homosexuals Anonymous is a non-denominational program with a 14-step program. Love in Action is a rigidly fundamentalist residency program. P-FOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays) is allied with The Family Research Council, a group heavily involved in right-wing politics. Transforming Congregations is comprised of 40 church congregations, mostly United Methodist, that have ministries designed to help gay and lesbian people to become heterosexual. In Minnesota the active "ex-gay" groups are Eagles' Wings Ministry, Keys Ministry, Keys Fellowship, and Outpost. Some of these local groups are actively supported by the Minnesota Family Council.

The main nonreligious organization promoting the notion that gay people can "change" is NARTH. (The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) Because NARTH has an aura of scientific credibility, journalists and opinion leaders sometimes cite its research as legitimate. NARTH begins with the presumption that homosexuality is a developmental disorder or mental illness which it often compares to alcoholism.

Quotes About The "Ex-Gay" Movement

  • "The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable." American Psychological Association 1998
  • "Clinical experience suggests that any person who seeks conversion therapy may be doing so because of social bias that has resulted in internalized homophobia, and that gay men and lesbians who have accepted their sexual orientation positively are better adjusted than those who have not done so." American Psychiatric Association, 1994
  • "Confusion about sexual orientation is not unusual during adolescence. Counseling may be helpful for young people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation or for those who are uncertain about how to express their sexuality and might profit from an attempt at clarification through a counseling or psychotherapeutic initiative. Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contra-indicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation." American Academy of Pediatrics, 1993
  • "The potential risks of "reparative" or "conversion" therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self destructive behavior." American Psychiatric Association, 1994
  • "The psychosocial problems of gay and lesbian adolescents are primarily the result of societal stigma, hostility, hatred and isolation." American Academy of Pediatrics, 1993
  • "Too many people have gone down the change therapy road only to experience even greater pain than when they first came out as gay or lesbian. The groups supporting a change campaign instead of helping people live integrated lives are hurting women and men who have struggled, in some cases for years, to integrate their sexual orientation with their faith. To say that lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender persons cannot have a relationship with God is misleading and destructive. To say that homosexuality is a sin is wrong. Dignity/USA President Robert F. Miailovich, 1998

Helpful Talking Points

  • Pluralism and tolerance are core American values. "Ex-gay" movements promote intolerance when they portray homosexuality as an evil sickness in need of a "cure."
  • Even if sexual orientation were a choice, it cannot be grounds for the denial of the basic human rights of justice, equality, life, and liberty that are guaranteed in the foundational documents of the United States of America.
  • "Ex-gay" groups do not get at the heart of the unhappiness that some gay and lesbian people feel, an unhappiness that results from the messages of rejection spoken in many churches, communities and families.
  • "Ex-gay" ministries are being supported and used by right-wing political groups to promote an ultra-conservative, sectarian agenda that aims to destroy the important wall of separation between church and state.
  • "Ex-gay" groups mix mental health, religion and politics in very misleading ways. "Ex-gay" leaders are often untrained and unlicensed in counseling, social work, or therapy but offer these services.
  • The promotion of reparative therapy by "ex-gay" groups adds to the harassment and violence some youth face because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Thanks to Jeff Ford, MA. Other materials adapted from Equality Colorado and Equality Florida.

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