Thursday, July 21, 2005

Salon Part Four: "True Confessions"

In its final installment, Salon online looks at reparative therapy, the name for the controversial techniques used to transform gay people into heterosexuals.
On the front page of the Exodus International Web site is a photograph of several dozen men and women. The allegedly changed homosexuals, or newly minted ex-gays, are beaming at the camera, apparently celebrating their newfound freedom from homosexuality. Standing in the center of the photograph is 29-year-old Shawn O'Donnell, who was enrolled in Exodus programs on and off for 10 years.

Exodus is the umbrella organization, information clearinghouse and referral service for "ex-gay ministries." These organizations claim they can help gays and lesbians become heterosexual. Exodus was founded in 1976 as part of a backlash against the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 determination that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Exodus leaders are embraced by the religious right, including the politically influential Focus on the Family, which holds conferences touting the success of the "ex-gay movement."

The only problem with the Exodus photo is that O'Donnell is still gay. In fact, he is out of the closet and says he is the happiest he has ever been in his life. The efforts to change him from gay to straight were what sank him into despair. At age 21, in his bedroom at his parents' house, O'Donnell slashed his arms. "No one was home," O'Donnell says. "I was in my room and just started cutting. I definitely did not want to live anymore. I bled through my clothes. I had pretty deep cuts." O'Donnell's parents rushed him to the hospital, and he spent a week in a psychiatric ward. At the time, he was getting counseling from a group called Overcomers Ministries. True confessions

Yes, we just heard about Reverend Grace at Overcomers Ministries in DC.

How do the legitimate shrinks feel about this?
Mental health professionals fear there may be many stories like O'Donnell's. They say that efforts to change a person's sexual orientation, notably through therapy programs modeled on boot camps, with Draconian regulations, can be psychologically destructive. The American Psychiatric Association has asked ethical psychiatrists to refrain from "reparative therapy" that is supposed to change gays. "We are finding that the numbers of people claiming to be harmed by reparative therapy are increasing," says Dr. Jack Drescher, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues. "I don't know about the suicides because it is hard to determine why somebody killed themselves afterward. But the harm is increasing."

You can get into Salon pretty easily, if you can figure it out, to read this whole article. You ending up having to watch a little commercial, and then you're in for, they say, one to eight hours. I don't get that, but it's easily enough time to read this whole thing.

The author, Mark Benjamin, meets and interviews a series of men who have gone through reparative therapy. Most of them are very religious, and were trying to reconcile their sexual orientation with their faith. A number of them had attempted to kill themselves at one time or another.

All of them are still gay.

The writer also interviews Joseph Nicolosi, who champions this kind of therapy and is President of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization of therapists who do this sort of thing.
I tell Nicolosi I have spoken to a half-dozen people who have been through reparative therapy. All are still gay. All feel hurt by the therapy. None are gay rights' advocates. Nicolosi's group claims that 25 to 50 percent of those seeking treatment get "significant improvement." So I ask him if he can introduce me to any men or women who have been converted from gay to straight who are not on the payroll of an ex-gay ministry. He responds that his patients will not talk to me because they don't get a fair shake in the press. They are done with homosexuality and have moved on with their lives. They don't want to talk about it now.

He also interviews somebody from Exodus ministries.
Exodus spokesman Randy Thomas also declines to help me meet ex-gays to interview. He says that I can read about the experiences of ex-gays on the Exodus Web site.

Mmm, yeah, that's a good representative view of what happens, sure.

Well, it turns out that, although these guys claim that thousands -- I heard one speaker at the CRC town hall meeting say "tens of thousands" -- of gay guys have gone straight due to this counseling, nobody can find one. This writer is doing a big-time series on "ex-gays," but can he meet one and interview him? No. There are a few poster-child "ex-gays" out there, mugging for the cameras and telling their stories in the churches and religious websites, but there is no evidence at all that anybody has actually changed their sexual orientation as a result of this treatment.

I think it's really neat that Salon has given this issue such prominent treatment. The average person sitting at home doesn't know what to think, and the propaganda engine is running full speed. There are a number of reasons that the religious right wants you to believe that gays can become straight. Mainly, it gives them license to continue the campaign of hate; in the simple sense, if a guy chooses to be gay, then he deserves whatever happens to him. But I fear there are more insidious intentions, too, the propagation of an anti-intellectual, anti-reason culture of ignorance. Something like this capitalizes on the fact that nobody really knows very much about sexual orientation. So when you are told something, you can't tell if it's correct or not. And the nuts are there first and loudest, telling everybody all about this "ex-gay" movement, and how there are tens of thousands of sodomites flippin' faster'n you can count 'em.

But it turns out, once you get right down to it, reparative therapy doesn't work. It inflicts more pain than it relieves. The author talked with a pastor named Bob Gratcyk:
At one point, Gratcyk underwent five weeks of intensive therapy that was supposed to cure him of his homosexuality. "You are put in a situation where you, by nature, are considered evil," Gratcyk says. "The Christian version is that you are not evil, but your actions are evil. But you cannot separate the two." Today, Gratcyk, 48, lives with his partner and has reconciled his sexuality with his faith. "I am a man who is loved by God and loves God," he says.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine the devoutly Christian teen growing up in a fundamentalist home where homosexuality is considered a sin suddenly realizing he is gay. If he comes out, he runs the risk of losing the respect and support of both his family and his church community. Imagine all that pressure on that kid!

And where is that pressure directed? In many such cases, his family and church direct him toward "reparative therapy" because "if you just believe, try, pray hard enough you might change." People have undergone "reparative therapy" for decades and even after all that time had to give up the charade, step back out of the closet, and embrace their own nature.

According to many accounts including this Salon series, most people who undergo "reparative therapy" (and are willing to talk about it) gave it up because it made them feel worse -- worthless, dirty, and suicidal. This is why the number of ex-ex-gays dwarfs the number of ex-gays. There are not many people who can function very well while stifling their natural urges through a religious cocktail of piety, prayer, and self-loathing.

There are also numerous accounts of gays in "reparative therapy" becoming so conflicted that they act out in dangerous promiscuous ways. Most people agree that promiscuity is a significant cause of the spread of STD's as well as unwanted pregnancies, outcomes we'd all like our kids to avoid. Yet many parents of gay teens willingly place their minor children in unlicensed treatment facilities where these teens are repeatedly told their urges are sinful. To these parents apparently, the remotely possible outcome of their child being able to stay in the closet for the rest of his/her life is worth the risk of the dangerous outcomes of "reparative therapy" including promiscuity and suicide.

Perhaps these parents do not know that "reparative therapy" was banned long ago by all mainstream American medical and mental health associations. Perhaps they do not realize the risk of harm they are asking their teens to endure. That's why I'm grateful groups like are here making sure that these facts are available to the public.

Please continue to tell the truth and shine disinfecting daylight onto this barbaric banned practice.

Joyful Noises

July 22, 2005 10:15 AM  

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