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What’s the deal with conversion therapy?15 min read

Apr 29, 2018 | In the News | 0 comments

Is conversion therapy really therapeutic?

     First, let’s talk about what conversion “therapy” is. Conversion therapy is a practice born out of the Christian conservative population to assist LGBTQ identified people to “convert” back to being straight and cisgender (non-transgender). It is more often used on young men to convince them that they aren’t homosexual, that those desires are of the devil, and that it’s likely because of a distant relationship with the father in the home or an overbearing mother (Freud much?). Almost all conversion therapy practitioners require patients to sign a non-disclosure agreement, making it nearly impossible for the young people who have experienced it to discuss it publicly. This tactic has worked to keep the inner workings of conversion therapy out of the public sphere. However, we only need to look at the data to get a clear idea of the “practice.” As a gay man who was raised in a Christian conservative community in southern Ohio, this touches very close to home. I mean, my upbringing inspired me to create The Proud Path, a business built on the idea that adults with queer youth in their lives need to do everything they can to help them learn more about themselves and their community. Sadly, that was not my experience; that was not many people’s experience.

“…to assist LGBTQ identified people to “convert” back to being straight and cisgender.”

     The American Psychological Association’s Relations Director said that conversion therapy leads to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and risky sexual behaviors, and harm self-esteem.” A recent New York Times Opinion piece by Sam Brinton, a man who experienced conversion therapy. His experience has left him scarred for life: “But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions. The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.” This horrific experience is expected to happen to over 20,000 youth before they turn 18, according to the a UCLA study.
         While I personally was not subjected to torture of this nature, in my church I was often lectured by deacons, youth group leaders and even the pastor about my behavior. I was yelled at for skipping outside because I was “a 13 year-old young man,” I was told to learn about all the sports news and quizzed on it, and definitely heard almost weekly (because we went to church 5 times a week) that homosexuals are an “abomination and going to hell.” These were experiences I didn’t share with my family until I was in my late 20’s because of all of the shame and guilt I still had. I felt as though I was a failure because I hadn’t been able to transform into a “normal” boy. Also, my fiancé comes from a similar religious background, and was subjected to conversion therapy. He has had a history of anxiety and depression, and chose the same route as the NYT Opinion author, lying to everyone he knew to avoid going back. The psychological gymnastics a queer youth in conversion therapy must perform to stay sane are unbelievable. This is why The Proud Path is dedicated to fostering empathy and understanding in the parents of queer youth, in hopes of driving down anxiety, depression and suicide. Clearly, advocating against this dogmatic and inhumane “practice” felt cathartic and vital to me, for my partner, and the queer community at large.

“I heard almost weekly… that homosexuals are an abomination and going to hell.”

     I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the office of my State Senator, Martin Malavé Dilan and the State Assemblywoman from Fordham’s Lincoln Center district, Linda Rosenthal. Both support banning conversion therapy for minors, and Assemblywoman Rosenthal is a cosponsor of a bill to do just that in the NYS Assembly, which has passed the bill several years in a row. In talking with them, knowing their support, it became clear that this issue was very divided by the aisle. It was wonderful to know of their support, but difficult to know that there were many who didn’t feel the same. It is my hope that as more information and research become public around the detrimental outcomes of conversion therapy, more congress members will see this for what it is, torture. In meeting these politicians I was reminded just how accessible our representation is. Their doors are open, you can make appointments and send information. Call them to make your voice heard. They are chosen by the people to work for the people. That means you. If you don’t agree with conversation therapy, tell someone, send an email, pick up the phone. In this very interesting (to say the least) political atmosphere, states like NY and cities like NYC lean heavily on state and local policy to create the culture in which we want to live. And those policy makers are an extension of you, and the world you want to live in. If this practice isn’t a part of that world, what can you do today to remove it?

Is conversion therapy really therapeutic?

 

     First, let’s talk about what conversion “therapy” is. Conversion therapy is a practice born out of the Christian conservative population to assist LGBTQ identified people to “convert” back to being straight and cisgender (non-transgender). It is more often used on young men to convince them that they aren’t homosexual, that those desires are of the devil, and that it’s likely because of a distant relationship with the father in the home or an overbearing mother (Freud much?). Almost all conversion therapy practitioners require patients to sign a non-disclosure agreement, making it nearly impossible for the young people who have experienced it to discuss it publicly. This tactic has worked to keep the inner workings of conversion therapy out of the public sphere. However, we only need to look at the data to get a clear idea of the “practice.” As a gay man who was raised in a Christian conservative community in southern Ohio, this touches very close to home. I mean, my upbringing inspired me to create The Proud Path, a business built on the idea that adults with queer youth in their lives need to do everything they can to help them learn more about themselves and their community. Sadly, that was not my experience; that was not many people’s experience.

“…to assist LGBTQ identified people to “convert” back to being straight and cisgender.”

     The American Psychological Association’s Relations Director said that conversion therapy leads to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and risky sexual behaviors, and harm self-esteem.” A recent New York Times Opinion piece by Sam Brinton, a man who experienced conversion therapy. His experience has left him scarred for life: “But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions. The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.” This horrific experience is expected to happen to over 20,000 youth before they turn 18, according to the a UCLA study.

         While I personally was not subjected to torture of this nature, in my church I was often lectured by deacons, youth group leaders and even the pastor about my behavior. I was yelled at for skipping outside because I was “a 13 year-old young man,” I was told to learn about all the sports news and quizzed on it, and definitely heard almost weekly (because we went to church 5 times a week) that homosexuals are an “abomination and going to hell.” These were experiences I didn’t share with my family until I was in my late 20’s because of all of the shame and guilt I still had. I felt as though I was a failure because I hadn’t been able to transform into a “normal” boy. Also, my fiancé comes from a similar religious background, and was subjected to conversion therapy. He has had a history of anxiety and depression, and chose the same route as the NYT Opinion author, lying to everyone he knew to avoid going back. The psychological gymnastics a queer youth in conversion therapy must perform to stay sane are unbelievable. This is why The Proud Path is dedicated to fostering empathy and understanding in the parents of queer youth, in hopes of driving down anxiety, depression and suicide. Clearly, advocating against this dogmatic and inhumane “practice” felt cathartic and vital to me, for my partner, and the queer community at large.

“I heard almost weekly… that homosexuals are an abomination and going to hell.”

     I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the office of my State Senator, Martin Malavé Dilan and the State Assemblywoman from Fordham’s Lincoln Center district, Linda Rosenthal. Both support banning conversion therapy for minors, and Assemblywoman Rosenthal is a cosponsor of a bill to do just that in the NYS Assembly, which has passed the bill several years in a row. In talking with them, knowing their support, it became clear that this issue was very divided by the aisle. It was wonderful to know of their support, but difficult to know that there were many who didn’t feel the same. It is my hope that as more information and research become public around the detrimental outcomes of conversion therapy, more congress members will see this for what it is, torture.

In meeting these politicians I was reminded just how accessible our representation is. Their doors are open, you can make appointments and send information. Call them to make your voice heard. They are chosen by the people to work for the people. That means you. If you don’t agree with conversation therapy, tell someone, send an email, pick up the phone. In this very interesting (to say the least) political atmosphere, states like NY and cities like NYC lean heavily on state and local policy to create the culture in which we want to live. And those policy makers are an extension of you, and the world you want to live in. If this practice isn’t a part of that world, what can you do today to remove it?

Nathaniel Gray

Nathaniel Gray

Founder, Writer, and LGBTQ+ Empathy Mentor

Nathaniel is a social worker, mentor for parents of LGBTQ+ youth, and facilitator/empathy mentor. He started out in NYC as a singer/dancer/actor from the heartland (O-H-I-O) getting his BFA in Musical Theater from Pace University. After years of performance, Nathaniel turned to working with youth, as an educator and administrator at Fusion Academy. Since then he has completed his Master’s in Social Work at Fordham University and started The Proud Path, as well as worked with the Ali Forney Center and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, agencies addressing LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. His mission is to learn everything he can about the coming out process to assist others through it, and develop empathy within those who never have to.
Nathaniel Gray

Nathaniel Gray

Founder, Writer, and LGBTQ+ Empathy Mentor

Nathaniel is a social worker, mentor for parents of LGBTQ+ youth, and facilitator/empathy mentor. He started out in NYC as a singer/dancer/actor from the heartland (O-H-I-O) getting his BFA in Musical Theater from Pace University. After years of performance, Nathaniel turned to working with youth, as an educator and administrator at Fusion Academy. Since then he has completed his Master’s in Social Work at Fordham University and started The Proud Path, as well as worked with the Ali Forney Center and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, agencies addressing LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. His mission is to learn everything he can about the coming out process to assist others through it, and develop empathy within those who never have to.

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