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Conversion Therapy for LGBTQ Youth is Bad

Report From Adam Swanson / National Council for Behavioral Health


In October 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published the report Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth. The report marked the first time we had conclusive, universal data, federally, that conversion therapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth is not effective. In fact, conversion “therapy” has far more harmful repercussions than positive.

Children in the LGBTQ community, whether they understand or recognize their sexual orientation, seek understanding and acceptance. Forming a healthy identity is one of the most crucial parts of a child’s development. The problem is our society thinks of gender two ways: male or female. This leaves little room for variance for youth who have non-traditional identification with their genders assigned at birth. For example, elementary school teachers unintentionally introduce the idea of only two genders with which a child can identify. It can alienate children simply by asking them to line up based on gender—boys in one line, girls in the other. While this may not be the teacher’s intention, for a child confused about their gender orientation, this can be stressful. Physiological sex and gender are two very different things and we must recognize their impact on youth growing up in our modern world.

Judith Glassgold, PsyD, American Psychological Association associate executive director and government relations office public interest directorate, made the point that it’s normal for children to explore gender identities. Binary definitions of gender are not a part of the normal human experience. These definitions are something that society dictates. So—if it is a societal problem—why do we blame people for gender exploration? This is an issue that parents, especially, must address.

Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, pointed out that health care providers assume parents and educators know about the unique lived experiences of members of LGBTQ community. In reality, many parents are misguided about the stresses facing LGBTQ youth. Health care providers need to know how important it is for LGBTQ children to feel accepted by their families.

The Family Acceptance Project study found LGBTQ youth whose families rejected them were six times more likely to develop a mental illness and eight times more likely to attempt suicide. This is astonishing. Most parents worry about what their children are exposed to, but in this case, it is particularly important parents be careful and act with care. It’s easy for a parent to indirectly tell their child that not conforming to societal standards is wrong. By telling a child, “this is just a phase,” or “you’ll grow out of it,” parents and guardians set a precedent that they don’t accept their children the way they are.

A positive way to help affirm and show acceptance of LGBTQ youth is to teach healthy coping skills. This is not just applicable for parents with LGBTQ children, but for youth in general. Hate crimes and bullying occur in all pockets of this nation to all kinds of people—straight or gay. And this is especially true for members of the LGBTQ community. Teaching a child resiliency will strengthen their ability to form a confident identity and teach them they’re stronger than it may seem. These are the greatest skills a child can have in school… and in life.

As Lin Manuel Miranda said in his 2016 Tony Award acceptance speech, “Love is love is love is love.” No amount of conversion therapy or prejudice will prevent that from being true. Thanks to SAMHSA’s conversion therapy study, we have scientific data detailing the dangers and ineffectiveness of these types of therapy and that acceptance is much stronger than rejection in building healthy children and adults.

(From National Council for Behavioral Health / Adam Swanson)




Conversion Therapy for LGBTQ Youth is Bad


Gay Cure Ministry Shuts Down and Apologizes

After 37 years, Exodus International, an organization whose mission was to "help" gay Christians become straight, is shutting down. But not before issuing an apology.  "We're not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change -- and they want to be heard," Tony Moore, an Exodus board member, said Wednesday. The announcement comes less than a day after Exodus issued a wide-ranging apology to the gay community for "years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole," a statement from the group says.

"Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we've ceased to be a living, breathing organism," said Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus. "For quite some time, we've been imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical."  Chambers, who has a wife and children and previously identified as gay, has acknowledged that he has "ongoing same-sex attractions."  Exodus, which has promoted "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," has de-emphasized conversion therapy in recent years as more of the counselors in its network have abandoned the practice.

The American Psychological Association defines conversion therapy as aimed at changing sexual orientation, but adopted a resolution in 2009 condemning the practice.  In it, the organization said "mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments."  But the same resolution also encouraged therapists to consider the religious beliefs of clients who say such beliefs are important to their views of homosexuality.  The APA removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1975.  But yet with the apology, some things have not changed, according to Chambers.  "I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them," he said. "I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek."


(From CNN)




CCN: Exodus International Shuts Down and Apologizes

LA Times: From Pray Away the Gay to Acceptance

ABC News: Exodus International has Change of Heart

LGBTQ Nation: Purveyors of Ex-Gay Therapy Closing Down

CBS News: Exodus International Shuts Doors

NY Daily News: Ex-Gay Ministry Apologizes and Closes

Huff Post: Ex-Gay Christian Groups Continue Their Efforts

Family Research Council: Ex-Gay Pride Month Dinner


SPLC Sues Conversion Therapy Group for Fraud


The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a first-of-its-kind fraud lawsuit against a counseling organization that claims it can convert people from gay to straight. The clients paid thousands of dollars only to be emotionally scarred through false promises and humiliating techniques that included stripping naked in front of a counselor and beating effigies of their mothers.  The SPLC is accusing a New Jersey organization of consumer fraud for offering conversion therapy services, a dangerous and discredited practice that claims to convert people from gay to straight. 


The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, charges that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), its founder, Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by providing conversion therapy claiming to cure clients of being gay.  It is the first time a conversion therapy provider has been sued for fraudulent business practices. The lawsuit describes how the plaintiffs (four young men and two of their parents) were lured into JONAH’s services through deceptive practices.




SPLC Files Groundbreaking Fraud Lawsuit
CNN: Therapist Claims to Change Homosexuals

Gay Conversion Therapy Court Battle




Gay “conversion therapy,” which claims to help men overcome unwanted same-sex attractions but has been widely attacked as unscientific and harmful, is facing its first tests in the courtroom. In New Jersey, four gay men who tried the therapy filed a civil suit against a prominent counseling group, charging it with deceptive practices under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. The former clients said they were emotionally scarred by false promises of inner transformation and humiliating techniques that included stripping naked in front of the counselor and beating effigies of their mothers. They paid thousands of dollars in fees over time, they said, only to be told that the lack of change in their sexual feelings was their own fault.


In California, so-called ex-gay therapists have gone to court to argue for the other side. They are seeking to block a new state law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September and celebrated as a milestone by advocates for gay rights, that bans conversion therapy for minors. In Sacramento on Friday, a federal judge will hear the first of two legal challenges brought by conservative law groups claiming that the ban is an unconstitutional infringement on speech, religion and privacy.


Since the 1970s, when mainstream mental health associations stopped branding homosexuality as a disorder, a small network of renegade therapists, conservative religious leaders and self-identified “life coaches” has continued to argue that it is not inborn, but an aberration rooted in childhood trauma. Homosexuality is caused, these therapists say, by a stifling of normal masculine development, often by distant fathers and overbearing mothers or by early sexual abuse.


An industry of “reparative therapy” clinics and men’s weekend retreats has drawn thousands of teenagers and adults who hope to rid themselves of homosexual urges, whether because of religious beliefs or family pressures. But leading scientific and medical groups say that the theories of sexuality are unfounded and that there is no evidence that core sexual urges can be changed. They also warn that the therapy can, in the words of the American Psychiatric Association, cause “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior” and “reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”  Those conclusions will be at the center of the coming legal fights in the state and federal courts.

In the spotlight in New Jersey are a counseling center called Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or Jonah; its co-founder Arthur Goldberg; and an affiliated “life coach,” Alan Downing.


Mr. Goldberg helped found Jonah in 1999, after he finished serving a prison sentence and probation for financial fraud he committed in the 1980s. The group describes itself as “dedicated to educating the worldwide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors that lead to same-sex attractions,” and says it “works directly with those struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions,” including non-Jews. While many Orthodox Jews consider homosexual relations to be a violation of divine law, Mr. Goldberg’s group has no official standing within Judaism, and many Jews accept homosexuality.  Neither Mr. Goldberg nor Mr. Downing is licensed as a therapist, so they are not subject to censure by professional associations.


The Southern Poverty Law Center, a rights group based in Montgomery, Ala., is bringing the suit on behalf of four former patients and two of their mothers, who say they paid thousands of dollars not only for useless therapy for their sons but also for more counseling to undo the damage. “The defendants peddled antigay pseudoscience, defaming gay people as loathsome and deranged,” said Sam Wolfe, a lawyer with the group. The suit, filed in Superior Court in Hudson County, calls for monetary compensation and for a shutdown of Jonah.


(From New York Times)




NY Times: Gay Conversion Therapy Faces Test in Court

Daily Beast: Gay Orthodox Jews Sue Over Therapy That Claims to Cure Them


California Outlaws Reparative Therapy Practice


Prominent Psychiatrist Apologizes



Reparative Therapy Harmful to LGBT Clients


Prayer for Bobby

In 1989, Leroy Aarons read a newspaper story about a young man's suicide. Particularly striking to him was the mother, Mary Griffith, who had tried throughout her son's adolescence to "pray away" his "gay nature". Bobby Griffith suffered enormously from his family’s lack of support and the condemnation of his church. At age 20, he jumped to his death from a freeway bridge in Portland, Oregon. Mary was transformed by her loss and eventually renounced the rigid religious beliefs that had kept her from fully accepting Bobby during his lifetime.

The Griffiths' story resonated with Aarons' own transformation as an openly gay journalist and activist. After Bobby’s death, his mother became an iconic activist for the national association Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), urging parents to understand and accept their children's homosexuality. "This extraordinary conversion touched me as deeply as the tale of Bobby’s tragic death," Aarons wrote. "What enabled her to transcend her background and perform what could only be described as acts of courage."  After leaving daily journalism in 1991, Aarons began to explore the Griffiths' stories in depth. Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms With the Suicide of Her Gay Son—Aarons' first book—was published by HarperCollins in 1996. A film adaptation, Prayers for Bobby, debuted on January 24, 2009, on Lifetime TV.



Amazon Book: Prayers for Bobby (Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son)

Prayers for Bobby (TV Movie)

Lifetime TV: Prayers for Bobby (TV Movie)


Reparative Therapy Information


APA Booklet: Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation
Various Statements About Reparative Therapy From Professional Assns
ACA Report on Ethical Concerns of Reparative Therapy
APA Resolution on Reparative Therapy
Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation
SPRC: Suicide Risk and Prevention for LGBT Youth
Case Western Reserve Univ: LGBT Resources and Information
Iowa State Univ: Queer Studies Library Research Guide
New York Public Library: Gay & Lesbian Studies

Routledge Publishing: Handbook of Research with LGBT Populations
Family Acceptance Project
UIUC Library: Resources in LGBT Studies
LHRC Health Information



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Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama