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Fiercely Protected Ignorance: A Look into the World of Conversion Therapy and its Dangers

Conversion Therapy has been labeled as an unethical form of mistreatment for years, and yet it still persists.

Conversion (or Reparative) Therapy is a form of “therapy” that aims to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ+ children, teens, and adults.  For many decades, even before the gay rights movement of the late 60s and 70s, mental health counselors and psychiatrists have been questioning the ethicacy and effectiveness of conversion therapy.  Today, conversion therapy is almost nonexistent in the licensed medical community, as it has been labeled by every major medical association pertaining to mental health as not only ineffective and unethical, but also extremely traumatizing (The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity).  Instead, this “therapy” is carried out by “caretakers” at conversion camps who keep the patients (normally children or teenagers who have been forced to go by their parents) under a strict 24/7 schedule that often includes prayer services, classes (the content of which are decided by the owner of the camp), and hard manual labor.  Disobedience at these camps is not taken lightly, and commonly followed by beatings and intensive forced labor.

 

 

A comparison between teen who only felt slightly rejected or accepted by their parents or caretakers and those who are highly rejected.

A comparison between LGBTQ+ teens who only felt slightly rejected or accepted by their parents or caretakers and those who felt highly rejected. 

Conversion Therapy can be extremely damaging for LGBTQ+ youth, who are the main targets of Conversion Therapy Camps.

Scientific evidence isn’t the only evidence pointing to the incredibly damaging nature of Conversion Therapy.  Today, more and more people are coming forward with their experiences in these camps and their stories have only increased the already strong opposition to Reparative Therapy.  One such story, although unfortunately she is not alive to tell it, is the story of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after her parents forced her to undergo Conversion Therapy (Leelah’s Law).  Fortunately, her death did not go unnoticed like the deaths of so many other transgender teens.  Shortly after the story of her death broke, a petition was created by the Transgender Human Rights Institute, asking Barack Obama to pass a law banning conversion therapy, which received over 300,000 signatures.  Although to this day no national law has been passed, there is still hope to create change.

Leelah Alcorn (pictured above) committed suicide on Dec, 28, 2014 by walking in front of a semi.

 

Many people still wholeheartedly believe the in the practice of Conversion Therapy, such as David Pickup, who I was able to interview.

David offers what he calls “AUTHENTIC Reparative Therapy” (I did not add the caps, they were there already) through his website.  If you choose to go to the website, you may notice the large banner that states “man, having my own sense of masculinity feels a lot better than sex with guys.”  After looking at his website and watching his interview with CNN I knew that he would be perfect for an interview.  Here I have copied the transcript of our interview.  From this you can see the way that he has convinced himself of the efficacy of his practices through his belief in antiquated ideas about homosexuality (such as the idea that homosexuality is borne from an insecurity with one’s masculinity).

Q: Do you believe that homosexuality is a result of experiences after birth or an innate quality within people?
A: There is no gay gene and hormonal and epigenetic studies are inconclusive. Homosexual feelings arise when severe gender identity insecurity exists in the early and later parts of life, because needs for love, affirmation and affection are not met to a severe degree, and sometimes because of sexual abuse in the early years. These basic needs get eroticized in puberty. These traumas can be overt or covert. In short, for men, masculinity becomes an object, therefor a sexual object in puberty, rather than a secure subjective experience during childhood which feels great but is not sexual. 
Q: What is type of treatment do you offer to people who contact you?
A: I conduct authentic Reparative Therapy, not any of the junk one can read on the internet. That means I conduct psychodynamic for resolution of the causes of homoerotic feelings, EMDR for trauma, and Cognitive/Behavioral interventions that remove shame. 
Q: Are the people that contact you predominantly parents with homosexual children or homosexual adults seeking counseling for themselves?
A: It’s about half and half. 
Q: Do you work as a Reparative Therapist because of religious beliefs (homosexuality is morally wrong/homosexuality is a sin) or are there other motives that call you to your work?
A: I am a RT therapist because the experience of clients transitioning into their secure, confident and authentic selves is so very rewarding. It amazes me that feelings actually change over time and depression, anxiety are relieved. It’s rewarding to witness their feelings automatically shift and change over time. In short, I do this because compassion is the greatest healer in the world and I’m a witness to it. Since clients are often spiritually motivated, it is a pleasure to help them live their lives that matches their spiritual beliefs. I find that many of these clients believe that feelings are in and of themselves a sin, which doesn’t make sense according to their own faith in the bible. All therapy clients have feelings that are undesired, but we don’t shame them with unnecessary guilt trips for their feelings. All my clients believe that homosexual feelings are not inborn and that they can lessen or dissipate. 
Q: What is your opinion of those who have been arrested on child abuse charges while running camps that offer Reparative Therapy?
A: None of these situations have ever occurred because none of these horrific camps have ever done real Reparative Therapy. RT is a professional term and application, and it is not practiced in these “camps.” They offer some kind of shaming or pray away the Gay experience that is harmful to these folks. Frankly, I’m glad these people were brought up on charges. RT is about the rise of the authentic self in terms of gender and sexuality. It’s about compassion and respect for the individual who is confused and needs to process their feelings based on what truly works for them. 
Although Mr. Pickup and many other of the people offering Conversion/Reparative Therapy like to use words such as “compassion” and “authentic,” their practice is based purely in the homophobia that is deeply in-bedded in our society, and their attempts to defend this practice often reference outdated psychiatric theories.

 

Although many important victories have been won for LGBTQ+ rights, the fight for equal treatment is far from over.

There was a regrettably popular sentiment after the supreme court decision to allow gay marriage that the fight for gay rights was over and love had finally won out.  While this was an incredibly important victory and will be remembered for many years as a milestone achievement on the road to equal treatment for LGBTQ+ people and in many ways on that day love truly did win out, there still remains many problems with the laws regarding gay and transgender people.  Whether it be the infamous bathroom law in North Carolina (thankfully now abolished) or the countless times anti-discrimination laws have failed to pass congress, politicians have been finding many different ways to attack people who don’t conform.  In a speech given at an Equality Utah meeting days  after the supreme court decision, Troy Williams stated “Despite our many victories, we have important work to change laws, open minds, and challenge prejudice” (Queer New World).  It is everyone’s responsibility to fight for the representation and fair treatment of those who are oppressed, and whether or not Conversion Therapy will be allowed in the future is something that has yet to be decided.

 

How do I get involved?

Right now the best way to help change the way that conversion therapy is treated in the legal system is to call the legislators themselves.  Mike Pence, one of the most vocal supporters of Conversion Therapy currently in office, is a perfect candidate for such an effort.  It only takes a few minutes, and your call could make a real difference in affecting the way Vice President Pence views conversion therapy.

If you call, all you need to say is “Hi, I support a nationwide ban on conversion therapy because I believe that it is mentally damaging to gay and transgender teens and adults.”

After you do this, the secretary of the Vice President will put down “conversion therapy” as one of the topics that they received calls about that day, and each successive call about that issue will also be recorded.  Often these calls can greatly affect the opinions of legislators as popular opinion makes a huge difference in their policies for their reelection bid.

Phone number of the Office of Mike Pence: 202-456-1111

Can you think of any other numbers you would like to call?  Below are the links to the directories of both the House and the Senate.

http://www.house.gov/representatives/

https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

 

 

References

TUGADE, F. AMANDA. “Leelah’s Law.” In These Times, vol. 39, no. 2, Feb. 2015, p. 9.           

        EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pwh&AN=100645085.

 

McGeorge, Christi R, et al. “An Exploration of Family Therapists’ Beliefs about the Ethics of

        Conversion Therapy: The Influence of Negative Beliefs and Clinical Competence with

        Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, vol. 41, no.

        1, Jan. 2015, pp. 42-56. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/jmft.12040.

 

Troy Williams. “Queer New World.” Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, vol. 38, 2016, pp.

        4–7., www.jstor.org/stable/humjsocrel.38.4.

 

Campaign, Human Rights. “The Lies and Dangers of “Conversion Therapy”.” Human Rights

        Campaign. The Humans Rights Campaign, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

 

Pickup, David. Personal Interview. 7 April. 17.

 

 

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COMMENTS: 6
  1. April 28, 2017 by Gabrielle Ruban

    Hey James! This was such an interesting project! I didn’t realize how prevalent conversion/reparative therapy was in today’s day and age, especially with how much we’re growing day by day in tolerance (or at least I like to think so). I liked your interview a lot, it was different, especially since he was kind of going against the message you were trying to send, being that he supports his version of “authentic” RT. I was so surprised to see that a majority of states haven’t made conversion therapy/camps illegal, seeing as we passed laws for LGBTQ+ marriage rights not too long ago.

    • May 02, 2017 by James Browning

      Thanks so much! And yeah it does seem strange how not a lot of states have passed bans, but it’s sort of similar to how when congress tries to pass anti-discrimination laws republicans usually block it until specific references to LGBTQ+ people are taken out.

  2. April 29, 2017 by Henry B

    I never knew about conversion therapy before this and it is definitely a worthy pursuit!

    • May 02, 2017 by James Browning

      Thanks! I appreciate your comment.

  3. April 30, 2017 by Kevin S

    Actually being able to interview one of the people who run these sort of camps is pretty interesting. Have you been able to reach out to a person who attended one of them?

    • May 02, 2017 by James Browning

      I looked into that but understandably it is uncommon for someone who has undergone this type of “treatment” to be comfortable sharing it. These interviews do exist though; if you are interested I suggest “Kidnapped by Christ.” It’s a great documentary and watching it is what originally got me interested in researching this topic.

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