Bilerico Report

Mike Pence, Republicans, conservative Christianity, and conversion therapy

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013. LGBTQ Nation

Following California’s lead in 2012, other states have either passed or are considering banning the unethical and psychologically dangerous practice by mental health providers of “engaging in sexual orientation change efforts” with people under the age of 18.

Referred to as “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy,” the practice involves pseudo-psychological or “spiritual” techniques designed to change individuals’ sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, or from transgender to cisgender.

These so-called “therapies” also go by such names as Homosexual Anonymous (a cynical co-optation of 12-step program methods of recovery) and PFOX (Parents, Families, and Friends of Ex-Gays and Lesbians (an obvious rip-off of the LGBT allies support network PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians).

Virtually all reputable major medical, psychological, and pediatric organization have passed resolutions roundly criticizing these techniques not only as “contraindicated,” but also as potentially life threatening. However, all the research documenting the destructive nature of these tyrannical forms of treatment (torture) apparently has little impact on some of our conservative political leaders.

For example, in response to the growing trend of states banning “conversion therapies,” the Republican Party included in its 2016 Presidential Platform:

“We support the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy, for their minor children…”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in his first congressional campaign in 2000, argued for public funding of conversion therapy. On his website at the time, his disdain for same-sex attractions and sexuality stands out:  

“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Pence and other political “leaders” who support these draconian measures should talk to people who have been impacted the most.

Living on a conservative Christian mission in Florida with his Southern Baptist minister parents, Samuel Brinton lied about his emerging feeling for other boys as a pre-teen because he feared his parents’ reactions. After acknowledging that he was attracted to his best friend Dale when he was 12, Samuel’s father told him he had AIDS, and repeatedly punched, burned, electroshocked, and inserted needles into his fingers to “cure” him. Eventually, Samuel felt forced to lie by telling his parents that he was actually heterosexual.

His parents sent him to a “religious therapist” who told Samuel that “I want you to know that you’re gay, and all gay people have AIDS,” and then placed pictures of men dying of AIDS before him. However, soon after arriving at Kansas State University, Samuel “came out” to his parents again, who told him he would not be welcomed home and threatened him if he returned.

But he turned his life around. Following graduation, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2010, Samuel Brinton was chosen as the top LGBT activist in the U.S. by Campus Pride, a national organization working for the rights of LGBT college and university students.

At age 14, Lyn Duff came out to her parents as lesbian. Not being able to accept the revelation, Lyn’s mother whisked her immediately and involuntarily to Rivendell Psychiatric Center in West Jordan, Utah where she was forced to undergo so-called “conversion therapy” to cure her from what doctors at the facility termed “gender identity disorder” and “clinical depression.”

Though Rivendell was not officially aligned with the Church of Latter Day Saints, Lyn remembers that on numerous occasions throughout her six-month incarceration, Mormon missionaries visited her, and her “therapy” was highly religious in tone.

This so-called “conversion therapy” really amounted to “aversion” techniques including watching women same-sex pornography while being forced to smell ammonia, being subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, and solitary confinement. Staff also imposed so-called “behavior modification” by requiring Lyn to wear dresses, and forced punishments of cutting the lawn with a small pair of scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush.

After being locked up for 168 days, Lyn somehow escaped Rivendell, and traveled to San Francisco where she lived on the streets and in safe houses.

She eventually connected with a local journalist, an attorney, at Legal Services for Children, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and she fought and won in the courts a legal emancipation from her mother. A lesbian couple adopted her when she was 15, and today Lyn Duff serves as a successful activist and journalist for the Pacific News Service and for KPFA radio’s Flashpoints.

Assigned male at birth in Ohio and given the name Joshua Ryan Alcorn, at the age of 14, Leelah Alcorn came out as a transgirl. Rather than sending her to a transition specialist, her conservative Christian parents, who would not accept her gender identity, shipped her instead to Christian-based conversion therapy.

After feeling misunderstood, alone, and alienated from family, peers, religion, and counselors, Leelah took her own life at age 16 by walking into speeding traffic on Interstate Highway 71. She concluded her suicide note with a plea:

“My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

Jacob Rudolph, Lyn Duff, Samuel Brinton, Leelah Alcorn, and many other young people have cut to the very heart of the issue by showing us all that the problem does not reside within those of us whose sexuality and gender identity and expression differs from the majority, but rather, rests within our society, including a (hopefully) shrinking minority of religious denominations that adhere to a circumscribed view of human diversity.

While his state legislature was holding hearings on the issue of whether to ban conversion therapy, a young man testified in front of the New Jersey Senate Health Committee on March 18, 2013, “My name is Jacob Rudolph. I am an LGBT teen. I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed.”

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