I can't believe we're back to conversion therapy being a mainstream idea. A few years back, the Obama Administration responded to the death of a transgender teen who threw herself into highway traffic following psychologically abusive conversion therapy by officially characterizing conversion therapy as something that's "neither medically nor ethically appropriate" and something that "can cause substantial harm."
I am the son of a mother who strongly advocated conversion therapy before I came out (when she suspected I was gay) and after I came out (borrowing her car meant I had to listen to a certain CD she'd bought for me). She did it out of love. She was misguided. There was no way to cut through the Christian propaganda to reach her. It was the mid-'90s. Gay people were dying left and right. I didn't have a president who said conversion therapy "can cause substantial harm" to quote. But gay kids living under Obama's administration did. I really thought, after Obama articulated his position, the United States had officially moved past this.
Donald Trump, who confusingly presented himself as an LGBTQ advocate during his campaign, keeps surrounding himself with high-profile conversion therapy exponents. He chose a running mate who is largely understood to be a supporter of conversion therapy, though that support was articulated in coded language.
Today the New York Times does its best to untangle Mike Pence's position:
Mr. Pence has been particularly dogged by accusations that he is a supporter of “conversion therapy,” the practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been discredited by the medical establishment and denounced by gay and transgender groups.
Mr. Pence’s spokesman, Marc Lott, denied to The Times over the weekend that the vice president-elect supports the practice, saying a past campaign statement had been misinterpreted. But L.G.B.T. groups remain skeptical, pointing to his record of opposition to gay rights as a member of Congress and as governor of Indiana and an approving reference to conversion therapy in the 2016 Republican Party platform.
Local jurisdictions have the power to ban conversion therapy businesses—and make no mistake, when my mom bought that CD for me, she was supporting a business—and there's a (brilliant) state legislator in New York who wants to ban conversion therapy in Erie County. The bill's name?
Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Childhood Endangerment—or PENCE, for short.
Hahahahaha. Well played, Patrick Burke! As he explained to NBC: "Conversion therapy is an abomination. It is clearly abuse. It's brainwashing. It does real damage. Even calling it conversion therapy takes the edge off of what it really is."
Meanwhile, Trump has tapped another conversion therapy bigwig to run the Education Department: Betsy DeVos.
As Politico reports, "the DeVos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to groups that push 'conversion therapy.'"
There's a Q&A on DeVos's website about her views on issues relating to education... and yet there are only two Qs and As. And none of them address conversion therapy. Huh. I emailed a request for clarification on her position.
Here's what I asked:
Quick question: Does Betsy DeVos support conversion therapy for minors? The practice has been widely discredited by the medical community, yet the DeVos family has donated tremendous resources to Christian organizations that support the practice.
As soon as I hear back—if I hear back—I'll update this post.
What, exactly, happens in conversion therapy? Here are profiles of four men who've been through it.
Two years ago, nine leaders of "the ex-gay movement" apologized for the work they'd done. They joined together and wrote an open letter explaining exactly how harmful their work had been to the lives of their patients.
Today would be a good day to reread that letter.
Here's a portion of it (emphasis mine):
At one time, we were not only deeply involved in these “ex-gay” programs, we were the founders, the leaders, and the promoters. Together we represent more than half a century of experience, so few people are more knowledgeable about the ineffectiveness and harm of conversion therapy. We know first-hand the terrible emotional and spiritual damage it can cause, especially for LGBT youth. We once believed that there was something morally wrong and psychologically “broken” about being LGBT. We know better now...
We grew up being told that being LGBT was disordered, sick, mentally ill, sinful, and displeasing to God. We grew up being told that loving, same-sex relationships were shallow, lust-driven, deceived, disordered, and impossible...
That message is poison to the soul. Especially a child’s soul. It can take a lifetime to get rid of that old programming and replace it with healthy, non-toxic views of yourself. Recovery from conversion therapy is difficult at best. Some remain forever scarred, emotionally and spiritually. Conversion therapy reinforces internalized homophobia, anxiety, guilt and depression. It leads to self-loathing and emotional and psychological harm when change doesn’t happen. Regrettably, too many will choose suicide as a result of their sense of failure. In light of this, we now stand united in our conviction that conversion therapy is not “therapy,” but is instead both ineffective and harmful.