In 1998, 15 religious right organizations launched a huge advertising campaign to promote “pray away the gay” programs. Anti-gay activist Robert Knight called the “Truth in Love” campaign the “Normandy Landing in the larger cultural wars.”
Things didn’t quite work out as Knight had hoped. In 2000, I photographed their poster boy, John Paulk, in a Washington, DC gay bar. In 2003, I joined attorney Mike Hamar in reporting that the star of their television campaign, Michael Johnston, was hooking up with men he was meeting on the internet.
The already shredded credibility of such groups markedly deteriorated this year after Exodus International’s leader, Alan Chambers, said that his “ex-gay” ministry did not work for 99.9% of clients. This followed a similar admission from Love In Action ministry leader John Smid. The icing on the cake occurred this spring when Dr. Robert Spitzer renounced his infamous 2001 “ex-gay” study claiming that some gay people could go straight.
The cherry on top of the icing came last month when California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting reparative therapy for minors in California, which greatly damaged an industry where more than half of the clients are youth.
This week, the rest of the chickens came home to roost and the roles from 1998 were reversed, with the LGBT community and its allies storming the beaches of the “ex-gay” shoreline.
On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the victims of reparative therapy. Representing four clients, and two of their mothers, SPLC slammed Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), its director Arthur Abba Goldberg, and life coach Alan Downing, with an historic complaint alleging consumer fraud.
SPLC’s lawsuit is based on JONAH and Downing’s “misguided and erroneous belief that that being gay is a mental disorder – a position rejected by the American Psychiatric Association four decades ago.” The lawsuit says that some Plaintiffs were instructed to “remove all clothing during both individual and group therapy sessions including an instruction to Chaim Levin to hold his penis in front of Defendant Downing.
If the SPLC action weren’t bad enough for the “ex-gay” industry, Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced the “Stop Harming Our Kids” (SHOK) resolution on Wednesday at a Capitol Hill press conference. Though not as strong as a federal bill, which is sorely needed, it is a terrific step in demanding that unethical charlatans be held accountable for malice in the guise of medicine that often exacts psychological wreckage on young clients and their families.
These pushers and peddlers of guilt and shame have pretended to be experts, when they are just extremists and ideologues taking advantage of desperate and vulnerable people. Every mainstream medical and mental health association in America rejects so-called reparative therapy, including: The American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The American Psychiatric Association says that attempts to change one’s sexual orientation can lead to “anxiety, depression, and self destructive behavior.”
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times as vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs (Caitlin Ryan, San Francisco State University, June 2009). Reparative therapy divides families in the name of family values, which can sometimes lead to the “negative feedback” that causes LGBT youth to harm themselves.
Still, the snake oil salesmen blithely ignore these potent warnings because they are not concerned with the mental health of youth. They disregard facts to peddle fiction and engage in wishful thinking that they cynically refer to as therapy. Homosexuality has not been considered a mental illness for forty years. Yet, these opportunists magically claim that they can heal people who are not sick and fix people who are not broken.
Such therapists mislead ‘patients,’ deliberately misrepresent science, and dangerously play head games that can cause lasting mental scars. They engage in consumer fraud because they offer promises they can’t deliver, while delivering disasters they never promised. America’s youth deserve better than to be pawns in an ignoble effort to profit from the pain of hurting parents who are falsely led to believe these quacks are genuine experts.
As the author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, I have seen the enormous destruction caused by reparative therapists. As the founder of Truth Wins Out, one of the nation’s primary watchdogs of the “ex-gay” industry, I have had to pick up the pieces of shattered families and littered lives.
This scam can’t be ended soon enough. While no one has transformed from gay to straight, there have been too many people who have gone from whole to hurting, or from alive to dead. It’s time to end this ugly nightmare before more peoples’ lives are destroyed.