It seems like every few days the LGBTQ rights movement makes a little progress, especially in the fight for marriage equality. In recent weeks, a number of judges have struck down efforts to ban same-sex marriage or upheld efforts to institute it, and just Wednesday the Supreme Court refused to block same-sex marriage from going forward in Oregon.
Anyone who thinks it’s time to declare victory and take a rest, however, need only to look at, among other things, the draft of the Texas Republican Party’s platform. (The final version, which has not been made available, was approved over the weekend.)
The draft states that public policies should never present homosexuality as an “acceptable alternative lifestyle” and that family should never be “redefined to include homosexual couples.” Perhaps more disturbing, the draft platform suggests that reparative therapy is a legitimate form of mental health care and no laws should ever be made to limit access.
Reparative therapy, also known as “conversion therapy,” assumes that people can change their sexual orientation and aims to make gay people straight. This form of therapy became popular in the 1970s and ’80s when the mainstream medical associations realized that homosexuality was not a mental illness and declared that the goal of mental health care for gay and lesbian individuals should not be to “cure” them but to help them cope with a very homophobic society.
A group of psychologists and psychiatrists opposed this decision and created a new organization called NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), which was founded on the “assumption that obligatory homosexuality is a treatable disorder.” A number of other groups were formed by those with a religious rather than scientific background. One of the most prominent was Exodus International, an affiliation of ministries around the world that promoted religiously based reparative therapy.
Exodus and 14 other ministries gained national attention in the late ’90s when they launched a million-dollar ad campaign telling people that people could “pray away the gay.” The people in the ad called themselves “ex-gays” and promised others that they could cure them of their homosexual desires as well. Reparative therapy itself included everything from self-guided Bible study to aversion shock therapy, in which electrodes were placed on a patient’s body while
they watched gay pornography and shocks were administered every time they appeared to become aroused.
The draft of the Texas Republican Party’s platform says this of reparative therapy:
We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.
At this point, though, the Texas Republican Party is among sparse company. All major medical associations condemn the practice. A committee for the American Psychological Association looked at 83 peer-reviewed studies conducted between 1960 and 2007 and found no legitimate evidence that it worked. It said most studies on the subject had serious methodological problems, none were based on credible scientific theory, and many were based on theories that could simply never be scientifically evaluated. The committee’s report, released in 2009, concluded that efforts to change same-sex attraction are not only ineffective but also cause harm, including loss of sexual feeling, depression, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety.
Other medical associations have come out against the practice as well. The American Medical Association “opposes, the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” The American Psychiatric Association says, “Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of ‘cures’ are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. … [The American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.” And the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, “Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”
If the opinions of these medical organizations are not enough to call this practice into question, we now have the opinion of numerous leaders from the field of reparative therapy who have apologized to the gay community and admitted that their form of therapy just doesn’t work. For example, Michael Bussee, one of the founders of Exodus International, revealed in 2010 that he had been in a relationship with another ex-gay counselor for over 20 years. He offered his sincerest apologies to the gay community and anyone he might have hurt through his involvement with reparative therapy. And John Smid, the former director of Exodus affiliate Love in Action, told MSNBC viewers in 2011 that he is gay and that it is actually impossible to change one’s sexual orientation.
As RH Reality Check reported, at this time last year an even more shocking apology rocked the ex-gay movement: Alan Chambers, then president of Exodus International, who had starred in the famous “pray away the gay ads” with his wife, shuttered the organization and posted this apology to the lesbian and gay community on its web page.
I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse.
Chambers said that he and his board planned to open a new ministry that made churches a more welcoming place.
Perhaps it’s best if they don’t open it in Texas, given the state Republican Party’s desire to ensure that no laws are ever made there limiting access to this type of therapy.
Two states—California and New Jersey—have already passed such laws as a way to protect minors from being forced by their parents to participate in reparative therapy.
During hearings on the bill in New Jersey, college student Jonathon Bier testified that he was threatened with expulsion from his Yeshiva if he did not submit to conversion therapy. He told the committee, “The therapy involved my reading specific portions of the Bible over and over on a weekly basis for the year. I was told about the dangers of homosexuality how it’s connected to disease, mental illness, a life of unhappiness. This hurt me deeply, to this day I’m still affected.”
Both the New Jersey and the California laws were challenged in court, and the law won out each time. In California, the unanimous opinion of a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found the state law barring reparative therapy is legal in every respect. The decision stated, in part:
One could argue that children under the age of 18 are especially vulnerable with respect to sexual identity and that their parents’ judgment may be clouded by this emotionally charged issue as well.
Despite these court victories protecting young gay and lesbian individuals and others advancing the rights of same-sex couples, we should not be surprised that the draft of the Texas Republican Party’s platform contains anti-gay language. According to the Huffington Post, only seven states plus the District of Columbia have no mention of opposition to same-sex marriage or other rights for LGBT individuals in their Republican Party platforms.