Bias Watch

‘Former’ gay & trans people lobbied Congress to oppose LGBTQ rights

The straightest picture you'll ever see: members of Changed lobbying California's legislature in 2018.
The straightest picture you'll ever see: members of Changed lobbying California's legislature in 2018. Photo: Changed

Fifteen people who say they used to be LGBTQ went to Congress this week to lobby against two bills for LGBTQ equality.

The “formers,” who are associated with the organizations Church United and Changed, say that they’re the real oppressed minority here. But instead of advancing their interests, they argued against LGBTQ people’s.

Related: ‘Ex-gays’ humiliated in DC when no one showed up for their big rally

“I live in Portland [Oregon] and I don’t see the discrimination that LGBTQ people talk about,” Changed member Kathy Grace Duncan told NBC News. Duncan said that she “used to” be a trans man, but she is now a cis woman.

At issue are bills for the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, extending federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people, and the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would make conversion therapy fraud, if practiced for financial compensation.

Studies have shown that LGBTQ people face high rates discrimination on the job, as well as in other areas. This is why the Equality Act – and related anti-discrimination legislation – has been a goal for LGBTQ activists for decades.

Duncan claimed that LGBTQ people already have the rights in the Equality Act: “They’re asking for certain rights in this legislation, but these are rights that they already have.”

Fewer than half of states have laws on the books banning employment discrimination against LGBTQ people, and the Equality Act has not passed at the federal level. It is unclear exactly what Duncan meant.

But she didn’t stop there. She attacked the conversion therapy ban bill, but not by defending conversion therapy. She said conversion therapy doesn’t exist, contra real studies, the narratives of conversion therapy survivors and going through it herself.

“I’ve never been a part of a ministry program that promotes conversion therapy,” she said. “I do think conversion therapy should be banned, but first we need to prove that it’s actually happening.”

Then how did she get to be ex-transgender? She says that she didn’t do conversion therapy. She did something completely different: a “discipleship program.”

“In discipleship programs like the ones I’ve participated in, we’ve looked at the root issue — ‘Why are you living like that?’ — and we’ve provided community and accountability against temptation,” she said.

Gwen Aviles, the frustrated NBC journalist who interviewed her, wrote that Duncan could not “clearly explain how ‘conversion therapy,’ which [the organizations] do not support, differs from an attempt to ‘overcome’ one’s sexual orientation or gender identity through therapy or religious guidance, which they do support.”

But Duncan wasn’t the only ex-LGBTQ who went to Congress to confuse people. Church United founder Jim Domen, also an “ex-gay,” said that the Equality Act would create a “super class for anyone identifying as LGBTQ at the expense of people who are not,” especially when it comes to “religious freedom.”

The Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights protections. So Domen’s statement raises two questions.

First, is he saying that racial minorities, religious minorities, and women are “super classes” oppressing others because they are already included in those protections?

Well, no, he said, since he believes that LGBTQ people aren’t oppressed because there are LGBTQ scientists, authors, and politicians. He did not appear to realize that this argument applies to pretty much every group out there – there are scientists, authors, and politicians of all races and sexes and religions. Excellence does not negate the existence of oppression.

Second, wouldn’t protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity also help ex-LGBTQ people? If ex-gays are actually straight, then wouldn’t the Equality Act protect them too from discrimination based on sexual orientation? Like if an ex-gay got fired for saying that they’re… ex-gay, for example?

Changed co-founder Elizabeth Woning got to the heart of the matter: the point isn’t making the lives of supposedly ex-LGBTQ people better, it’s about turning other LGBTQ people cis and straight.

“We’re just trying to tell our stories,” Woning said. “These bills are based on the premise that LGBTQ people only have one option and that there are no other ways forward, when we know from our own lives that this is not true.”

Discrimination, for people like Woning, is nothing more than a means by which society can and should pressure LGBTQ people to repress their identities.

The Formers are likely to get their way for the foreseeable future. As long as Republicans control one of the veto points on federal lawmaking – the House, the Senate, the White House, and possibly the Supreme Court – the Equality Act won’t get passed. Despite support from the vast majority of Americans, Republicans are fiercely opposed to LGBTQ civil rights.

And the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act goes beyond state-level conversion therapy bans and is similar to a conversion therapy ban that failed to even get put up for a vote in California.

Conversion therapy bans for minors have been easier for states to pass because advocates can argue that children don’t choose to go to conversion therapy, but labeling conversion therapy as fraud – even though major health organizations like the American Psychiatric Association have denounced it – is an idea many religious and otherwise conservative people oppose because they believe that LGBTQ people should suppress their identities.

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