I wrote an op-ed today for the Advocate, “Why the ‘Ex-Gay’ Industry is Going Under.” It is my view that, at least in America and Western Europe, we are clearly winning our our battle against these “pray away the gay” frauds. There is still much work we must do to finish the job and we will also have to fight an eerily similar culture war overseas, where our homegrown fanatics are exporting their ugly lies. (See Russia, Iran, and Uganda)
However, in terms of the fight in the United States, it appears that the Religious Right’s strategy of latching itself to the “ex-gay” bandwagon has badly backfired. In 1998, the extremists launched the “Truth in Love” campaign with a full page ad in the New York Times featuring Anne Paulk. This endeavor, sponsored by more than fifteen anti-gay groups, was considered so momentous that Robert Knight, who at the time worked for the Family Research Council, called it the “Normandy Landing of the larger cultural wars.” The pinnacle of the campaign was a Newsweek cover with the screaming headline, “Gay For Life.” (John and Anne Paulk on magazine cover above)
We all know what happened next. I photographed John Paulk in a gay bar in 2000 and he is now living as a gay man in Portland, OR, estranged from his wife. Michael Johnston, who was the star of the 1998 campaign’s “ex-gay” television ads, was outed by myself and Michael Hamar for his gay motel orgies in 2003. He was shipped off to a sex addiction facility in Kentucky.
Focus on the Family dumped its infamous Love Won Out program, which was a traveling “ex-gay”road show, a couple of years ago. Last year, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, admitted that 99.9% of his clients do not go from gay to straight. He was last seen producing and starring in an ultra-queer Harlem Shake video for his confused and conflicted organization. And, John Smid, former director of the notorious program, Love in Action, has come out of the closet as a gay man. (To his credit he has done so with class and integrity)
Additionally, Truth Wins Out was formed in 2006 to counter “ex-gay” lies and we dogged groups like Exodus at their conferences, making it difficult for our foes to mislead the public. We have also worked diligently to explode our opponent’s junk science and will continue to do so in the coming months.
And, the Survivor’s movement, led by heroes like Peterson Toscano, Michael Bussee, Christine Bakke, Darlene Bogle, Jallen Rix, and Chaim Levin, helped impart the harm caused by these insidious programs. Their powerful narratives more that countered the foolish fairy tales disseminated by “ex-gay” spokespeople like Anthony Falzarano, Stephen Bennett, and Melissa Fryrear. The “ex-gay” industry is now led by a pathetic back bench of unseasoned and unconvincing spokespeople like the always-angry Greg Quinlan, former bisexual junkie Janet Boynes, and David Pickup, with his hilariously silly “work out man” program. To average Americans, these folks look more troubled than transformed; more cuckoo than “cured.” It is rather clear that these activists are their own worst enemies and do far more damage to their cause than I ever could, simply by opening their mouths.
The results of our scrum with the “ex-gay” myth are in, and it appears that the writing is on the wall for this insidious batch of bigoted charlatans and their exploitative industry. An ABC News/Washington Post poll that came out on Monday highlighted spectacular changes in public attitudes on whether people could “pray away the gay.” The poll showed that just 24 percent now see homosexuality as a choice, down from 40 percent nearly 20 years ago.
All I can say is WOW! America finally gets it and I think it is indisputable that the the huge 1998 “ex-gay” campaign to shove LGBT people back into the closet was a spectacular failure.
So, the burning question is: Why doesn’t it feel like we have had the monumental success that the polls suggest?
It is because the remaining 24 percent of dead-enders are primarily older Evangelicals clustered in Red States. For LGBT people living in such restrictive places it can still can feel like 1950, with a significant number of people believing that homosexuality is an immoral choice — a temptation implanted in the mind by the devil himself.
If one is a gay youth living in such an oppressive environment, where maybe one out of every two people they meet thinks they are going to Hell, life can be difficult and the national polls offer little solace. This large swath of fundies who still hold backward attitudes provides fertile territory for the “ex-gay” myth and provides enough customers to keep greedy reparative therapists in business.
Furthermore, GOP redistricting has carved out congressional districts that help reinforce homophobia and offer little incentive for conservative politicians to evolve with the changing times. For instance, if 76 percent of Americans think homosexuals can’t change, but sixty percent of a congressman’s district believes gays can transform through exorcism or Christian therapy, how do you think that politician will vote on gay rights?
Thus, while the big picture looks rosy and we all know the final outcome of this fight (provided we continue to scrap like hell and never let our foes get off the ground), there are significant pockets of bigotry still to be eradicated. The big question is “what next” for this fight against the “ex-gay” myth?
It is my view that we should first ban all “ex-gay” (aka reparative) therapy for minors, since they are often forced into such abusive situations against their will. (NARTH focuses on youth because they are trapped into attending their programs)
Indeed, reparative therapy is arguably not even therapy at all. It appears to be an organized campaign by anti-gay activists to hijack medical language to stigmatize a group of people so they will not achieve equal rights. The result is enormous psychological harm to clients and a negative impact on family relationships, because parents are falsely blamed for causing their children to be gay.
Reparative therapy is always dangerous and ineffective because it begins with a deliberate misdiagnosis that claims that gay clients are mentally ill. When a therapist begins treatment with such a faulty premise, malpractice is almost always the result. This is why I strongly believe that psychologists who are NARTH members or practice reparative therapy should be stripped of their medical licenses.
Sure such quackery will always be around, but it should never have the imprimatur of mental health associations or state medical boards. If one practices reparative therapy, he or she is basically saying “I am a quack and I shake down my vulnerable clients and psychologically abuse them for a fee.” That these abusers still have the stamp of approval from psychological associations and states gives a black eye to the entire industry and makes all therapy appear to be suspect and unscientific.
As I wrote in the Advocate today, NARTH counters that my plan will inhibit “client determination.” However, deceptive advertising that makes false promises is what lures desperate and vulnerable parents to force their children into therapy. Moreover, if clients truly determined their course of medical treatment, they would be writing their own prescriptions, and I don’t see anyone advocating this.
NARTH argues that if such therapy is banned for minors, it violates therapists’ First Amendment rights. It seems NARTH practitioners have confused their role as physicians — who are held accountable for what they advise — with the bombast of talk radio hosts who can say whatever they want. Indeed, there are limits to medical speech; for example, a doctor may be held liable if he tells a patient recovering from a heart attack to improve his health by subsisting on a diet of funnel cakes and fried butter.
A final unconvincing argument is that such laws are an attack on parental rights. We heard this argument in last week’s New Jersey hearing to prohibit “ex-gay” therapy for LGBT youth:
“I don’t understand who you people are, trying to come into our homes and tell us what to do with our children,” Carol Gallentine told the legislators. “I see you people bullying the parents.”
In reality, the government has a long tradition of intervening to stop the neglect or abuse of children. For instance, a parent cannot use religious beliefs to deny a child critical medical treatment. A father can’t force a daughter to undergo female circumcision or cite a Bible verse about “sparing the rod” to justify beating his son.
There are a few well-meaning but misguided therapists who think that what I suggest is going too far because it will create a slippery slope. What they are essentially arguing, however, is that we must allow the practice of an illegitimate form of therapy to prevent potential overregulation of legitimate therapy. But in doing so, they are willfully sacrificing the mental health of clients who are being ripped off and ruined. They seem to forget that the first rule of medicine is to do no harm. And, of course, harm is the very essence of reparative therapy.
Read the entire Advocate op-ed HERE.