The field of psychology has a very dark past when it comes to race, abuse of the mentally challenged, and homosexuality. When it comes to gay people, we are still seeing practices like conversion therapy in the spotlight; something that should have been eradicated years ago along with all of the other discriminatory practices. In our recent past, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, Johnston states that it until the late seventies it was removed as a mental disorder (Johnston 557). In this paper, I will attempt to give more details and shed more light on the subject of gay conversion therapy.
The general public has no idea how terrible sexual conversion therapy is for young adults because they cannot relate to or understand what life is like as a gay person. The only group of people in this country that believe this kind of therapy works are very conservative Christians; these people will never have and open mind when it comes to sexual orientation.
Sadly, gay kids who are currently growing up in conservative Christian families are subjected to this horrendous form of treatment and it is hidden from local authorities and Child Protective Services because conservative Christian families have full control over the actions and activities of their children and many are threatened with physical and mental abuse so that they will remain silent and endure whatever abuse is forced upon them because they have no allies or support system. These parents can claim “religious freedom” and the authorities have no control; this happens in other areas too, for example; Jehovah’s Witness members can refuse blood transfusions on the behalf of their children just because the church doesn’t believe in that type of treatment and because of this bizarre belief; hundreds of children and adults die every year because they didn’t allow this simple medical procedure.
The beginnings of conversion therapy started around the same time as the emergence of psychology. Freud’s hypothesis on sexuality was that humans are basically born as bisexuals and people become gay because of their environment and conditioning, but he didn’t see homosexuality as a disease like most of his other colleagues. During that time period, psychologists began to experiment with psychiatric interventions to make an attempt at “curing” homosexuals.
Gay people were subjected to very extreme procedures back then; some of the most popular techniques were lobotomies and shock therapy. Another technique was something called “aversion therapy” where people were given drugs that made them physically ill and throw up when they were shown pictures depicting gay sex and some were given high voltage shocks to the genitals while being shown pictures of gay pornography.
Regina Kunzel wrote that during the seventies, gay and lesbian activists were starting to protest and bring about great changes by disrupting annual APA meetings, demanding that they change their views on homosexuality (Kunzel 316). Gay activists at that time felt like they should be involved, claiming that they were the experts on their own behavior and not the APA or the government. In 1971 activists delivered a petition to the APA with the title “We Are the Experts on Homosexuality’; the gay community just wanted to be treated as normal everyday citizens and not classified as a disability.
This struggle went on for many years and even today in countries like Uganda, gays and lesbians are being treated far worse than the gay population was treated here in the United States. Ugandans are being imprisoned and killed; most of them must live in secrecy to survive. And the main culprit in the uprising against gays in that country is a far-right minister named Scott Lively.
The Christian right are the main source of the reparative therapy movement; they have poured millions of dollars into their hateful movement of discrimination over the years, shouting anti-gay rhetoric from their pulpits and television shows. They believe that the AIDS epidemic is a plague brought to the world by god to punish humans for their sinful ways.
Exodus International which is no longer in existence, was a major coalition of ministries spread across many states. They have spent hundreds of thousands on major newspaper and magazine ads, some publications were even sympathetic to their cause; for example, Newsweek considered it a medical option in the late nineties, but by the turn of the 21st century; this movement started to lose its traction. Peer reviewed evidence was proving without a doubt that these inhumane therapies simply did not work, claiming that it was extremely harmful for the mental health of any person who had to undergo this type of treatment. All of the major medical and psychological associations systematically rejected these types of therapies as harmful.
Dr. Michael A. Friedman states that “We must present an approach to homosexuality that is unbiased and founded on more than theories. As a profession, this is our mess – if we do not clean it up, we run the risk of destroying one of the founding principles of medicine: do no harm.” Dr. Friedman strongly believes that mental health experts must actively speak out against hateful and discriminatory practices like ex-gay therapy and to never become passive or condone any treatment that is undeniably damaging to a person’s mental health.
It is very refreshing for me as a gay man to see such strong support for the gay community coming from professional medical and psychiatric associations and I hope we all continue to move forward and spread this message to other countries to people who are less fortunate than we are in this country.
While researching this paper, I learned that only ten states have chosen to ban conversion therapy. I had no idea that so many states are still living in the dark ages when it comes to the gay and lesbian community; this pretty much reinforces the disgust I have with the rise of the far-right in this country. It is really sad that a huge percentage of this country has such hateful views of homosexuality.
The relation to human sexuality is the persecution of the gay community; an area of sexuality that we have studied during this class and it is a subject that I feel connected to and obligated to discuss because it directly affects my everyday life. I learned that most of this “so-called” therapy is hidden from the public eye and that thousands of young adults are subjected to this form of mental abuse across the country.
It is not carried out by mental health professionals at all, most of these “therapists” are just people appointed by religious organizations posing as professionals with absolutely no credentials or even a degree.
The really frightening part of this story is that these religious organizations are totally protected by religious freedom laws, so any laws banning conversion therapies do not apply to them. They are basically untouchable and free to continue ruining lives and destroying families. When you hear the stories of the people who have gone through ex-gay therapy, they don’t ever claim that they have become heterosexual, they instead claim that they have been healed by god; and when you see pictures of them with their new opposite sex spouses, they look very uncomfortable and cringe-worthy.