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“”I want people to know that conversion therapy is literal torture.
|—"TC", 19-year-old gay man and conversion therapy survivor|
Reparative therapy (also known as conversion therapy) is a term used to refer to any of a number of pseudoscientific practices — based on the premise that any non-heterosexual attraction is inherently harmful, sinful and dangerous — claiming to be able to produce a fundamental change in an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, "reprogramming" the sexual preference of the
victim patient towards heterosexuality.
These practices vary greatly, but these days are generally religious in nature and typically consider homosexuality and transgenderism "diseases" or "disorders" that can, and should, be "cured," a notion which runs contrary to the official positions of most of the world's governing bodies in the fields of psychiatry and psychology.
Someone who once identified as LGBT and no longer does may be called an ex-gay, and may be part of the ex-gay movement, a mostly Christian social movement which advocates for ex-gays and for the effectiveness of reparative therapy, and encourages LGBT people to become ex-gay through reparative therapy. A further, rather puzzlingly-named subcategory of ex-ex-gays once considered themselves ex-gay, but no longer do so.
It's worth noting that professional, ethical psychotherapists rest actual psychotherapy on the condition of an engaged and willingly participating client, invested in therapy, seeking a positive and chosen goal, in what they perceive to be their own interests.
It's also worth noting that in reparative "therapy", most or all of these conditions will be absent.
- 1 Background
- 2 Meet Richard Cohen
- 3 Techniques
- 4 The impact of "treatment"
- 5 Famous "ex-gays"
- 6 Laws violated
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
“”So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
|—Human Rights Campaign|
A multitude of reparative therapy programs exist, which claim different origins for gender-variant behavior and employ different methods. Often children are sent by their parents to be "cured", though adults also participate voluntarily. Many of these "re-education" facilities amount to little more than non-fatal (at least not intentionally fatal) concentration camps. Transgender-specific reparative therapy is occasionally practiced on children who display cross-gender behaviors, often by misguided professional psychiatrists who seek to, for example, get young boys to "drop the
chalupa Barbie." Such efforts to force young children into rigid gender roles are eerily similar to the practices of gay "conversion therapy." Many reparative therapy programs are deliberately located outside United States territory in order to avoid US jurisdiction and circumvent US laws prohibiting the practice of medicine without a license.
“”[Reparative therapists] start with the basis that they're thinking there's something wrong with someone being homosexual, and then they believe they can "fix" it. They often use a lot of pseudoscience, particularly sort-of "refried" Freudian theory, and then they mix it in with the Bible, and they try to come up with a 'cure'. [...] Churches in particular — and church organizations — sprung up, taking some of the Freud, mixing it with the bible, stirring it up in a blender and coming up with this crazy "smoothie of madness" that they would have us then drink, in order to "fix" us.
|—Peterson Toscano in an interview on the Swedish skeptic podcast Skeptikerpodden|
It sucks to be LGBT sometimes. Being LGBT is difficult, for a lot of reasons, and it is certainly understandable that some LGBT people internalize this difficulty and are thus deeply unhappy with their sexual/gender identity. At least in theory, the principle of freedom of choice dictates that such individuals should have the right to seek whatever treatment or therapy they desire to arrive at a happier place. However, so-called "reparative therapy," in its current form, is manifestly unethical and deceptive because the people who promote and practice it profit from offering false hope to very vulnerable people, using outdated or incorrect data/pseudo-data to justify "treatments" that have not been demonstrated to be effective. Furthermore, when these "treatments" inevitably don't work, they risk reinforcing feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy in the "patient," putting him/her/them at risk of depression or even suicide. Finally, many reparative therapy programs exist not to improve the lives of the people they serve, but to prove a political point that, since non-heterosexual or non-cisgender behavior can ostensibly be changed, LGBT people should not be afforded civil rights, protection from discrimination, or recognition of their relationships.
“”I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime — and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.
|—Sigmund Freud, socking it to reparative therapy|
In the 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association reviewed its chief diagnostic tool, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). During this revision, the committee tasked with writing the manual eliminated homosexuality as a "mental disorder," primarily because they believed that it did not meet the standard of impaired functioning and in most cases did not hurt the self or others. Opponents of this decision seemed to think that it was based on pressure from the gay agenda that corrupted the APA. Thus, if the APA wasn't going to treat homosexuals as mentally ill, the Religious Right would.
Some "doctors" have equated reparative therapy with gender reassignment. The difference is that one issue is sexuality and that one is a gender issue; moreover, reparative therapy goes against one's natural instinct to be homosexual, while gender reassignment goes with one's natural instinct to be the opposite sex. One can just as easily set aside all these issues, and point out that gender reassignment patients need go through psychological therapy designed to keep them in their assigned gender unless medically necessary (how ethical that is is a separate question). If reparative therapy did not badger and force patients into treatment at all costs, then the APA never would have classified it as unethical treatment.
It should be noted here that gender identity and sexuality are separate issues. For example, despite being assigned female at birth, a transgender man isn't simply a "super-lesbian" who wants to be a man — said person may well be attracted exclusively to men.
In 2012, an article was published which proposes an epigenetic model of homosexuality. Therefore it may, after all, be possible to alter one's sexual orientation (at least in theory) — but with the use of biological and medical methods like epigenetic therapy instead of the highly questionable ones used by conversion therapists.
Meet Richard Cohen
“”He's almost as unbelievable as a Yeti.
|—Penn & Teller: Bullshit!|
By all accounts, Richard A. Cohen (1952-) (no relation to the increasingly-cranky columnist) would seem like a typical straight man; he has a wife and kids, and seems like an average everyday fellow. However, he is probably the most prolific "ex-gay" out there, and is a (self-proclaimed) "Certified Sexual Reorientation Coach." Although every major counseling organization has banned him (including other "ex-gay" groups), Cohen is probably the most prolific of them, and the most crazy. His basic theory is that gay people did not feel proper attachment to their parent of the opposite gender (or the same gender; actually, it seems that Cohen hasn't really thought this whole thing out), and are thus reaching out to people of their own gender in order to find that missing parental love. Despite not doing any real research into this matter, he manages to get on TV claiming to have found the "cure" for something which is not classified as a disease (except by certain sorts of people).
“”There are different methods for each practitioner, and I went through the gamut. I spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents consuming these pseudosciences, so I can tell you about a bunch of them. No two agree with each other, which is so common when you're dealing with pseudoscience, where they don't agree with each other often. Sometimes they use the Twelve step program, which has been somewhat effective with some alcoholics. They use a lot of the Bible; reading the Bible, memorizing the Bible — thinking that by "ingesting" God's word, it somehow "dislodges" evil, gay feelings. Some get really kind of extreme in that they have these extreme views; they think that being gay is because you're demon-possessed by spirits of homosexuality? So they submit you to an exorcism of sorts, to try to take out those gay demons.
|—Peterson Toscano in an interview on the Swedish skeptic podcast Skeptikerpodden|
The techniques that reparative therapists use are quite varied, but have one thing in common: they do not work.
“”Your current conditioned reflex is when you see the same sex you feel love. Now I want you to feel scared.
|—Chinese conversion therapist|
Remember the time you threw up after eating your favorite food and then never ever wanted to have that food again, even if that food didn't cause your vomiting? That's aversion therapy (see also vomit therapy). The way reparative therapists do it is to show you some hot gay porn, then make you drink ipecac. This might work, but it doesn't really "change" things; it just prevents behaviors, and in the end, all it may do is make you not want to watch gay porn. It should be noted that this also happened in A Clockwork Orange, and we all know how that worked out.
This one happens to be a Richard Cohen special. Remember, his theory is that gay men did not get the proper attachment from their dad; in order to treat this, Cohen himself will hug his patient, while the patient pretends to be a little boy and Cohen pretends to be his father. This is absolutely not an expression of repressed urges on Cohen's part, since he is not gay, and any gay feelings he might have are properly treated (see Hit Pillows below).
This is a slightly more "mainstream" form of reparative therapy, wherein gay men and women are forced to enact stereotypical gender roles. So lesbians will be discouraged from sports and similar activities, and instead be taught to sew, do makeup, hold babies (since all women want babies, after all, and sex is only for the creation of babies), and do other girly things. Gay men will be taught to act "macho" and do macho things (no, not like The Village People!), such as playing sports (since no gay men ever play sports) or building things (because only
straight women-loving people work on construction sites).
This is another Richard Cohen special. Cohen does sometimes get gay feelings, and so he has to deal with them in a mature and adult manner. Thus, when he feels gay, he will take a baseball bat or tennis racket and smash it against a pillow, while screaming things like "Mom, why did you do that to me?!"
Hang around with horses
Raymond Bell from the oh-so-legitimate sounding Cowboy Church of Virginia believes "Equine Assisted Psychotherapy" can help turn gay people straight. Yeah. Proper horses, not ponies, obviously. Just... don't look at their dongs.
Electric shocks to the genitals and sniffing feces
Vatican adviser and anti-gay therapist Tony Anatrella has been accused of doing mutual masturbation with gay priests and
semenarians seminarians in an effort to get sexual satisfaction to cure them of gay tendencies. Anatrella also had access to novice monks.
Treatments for transgender people
Reparative therapy techniques have also been tried on people with variant gender identity, not just sexual orientation. Anti-transgender therapists generally use the following techniques:
- Explicitly saying "You're a man!" or "You're a woman!" until the cows come home
- Subtly trying to talk people out of transitioning by scaring them (i.e., "You'll look like an ugly man in a dress!" for trans women, "You'll be bald and no one will date you!" for trans men)
- Forcing people to conform to the gender roles of their assigned sex, popularized by therapist Ken Zucker 
- Promising hormones at first, but never giving them even after years (referred to as "Gatekeeping")
- Attempting to use religion as a cure
- Requiring that other conditions, such as depression, be treated first, without realizing that gender dysphoria can cause those conditions, not the other way around.
Trans teenager Leelah Alcorn was forced into reparative therapy for being transgender. Her parents also cut her off of social media in an attempt to "cure" her. On December 28, 2014, Alcorn committed suicide.  A proposed ban on conversion therapy in the US was nicknamed "Leelah's Law." 
The impact of "treatment"
“”Conversion therapy causes serious harms. In the short-term, queer youth who go through conversion therapy are being cheated of the opportunity to gain self-confidence and self-esteem, to get support from family members and other adults, and to have normal adolescent developmental experiences around friendship, dating, and other social experiences. In the long-term, the negative health consequences of being subjected to conversion therapy are extremely serious and can include substance abuse, dropping out of school, HIV infection, depression, and suicide attempts.
|—NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter|
"TC" was first subjected to conversion therapy in 2012 (at age 15), as a result of his parents discovering that he was gay.
To make matters worse, the "therapy" sessions (consisting of two "components") took place at the creepiest venue imaginable — the basement of a local church, always after school hours:
The first step ― which usually lasted six months ― [is] where they “deconstruct us as a person”. Their tactics still haunt me. Aversion therapy, shock therapy, harassment and occasional physical abuse. Their goal was to get us to hate ourselves for being LGBTQ (most of us were gay, but the entire spectrum was represented), and they knew what they were doing....
The second step of the program, they “rebuilt us in their image.” They removed us of everything that made us a unique person, and instead made us a walking, talking, robot for Jesus. They retaught us everything we knew. How to eat, talk, walk, dress, believe, even breathe. We were no longer people at the end of the program.
The above summarized sessions would take place every weekday, with shock therapy treatments lasting for approximately an hour (!) and aversion therapy lasting for three hours. Per day, every day!
In other words, these poor kids were facing the equivalent of daily interrogations by the Viet Cong. At age 15. By people they trusted. For the crime of being gay.
They were able to turn us against ourselves. This is what drew so many people to suicide. We all shared a sense of loathing towards who we were and who we loved. It wasn’t just your regular ‘I hate myself.’ It was a disgust with the person you were and you wanted to do anything you could to change... Watching people disappear just became a fact of life after a while. You got used to it.
This is broken down into two categories, those whom have "relapsed" and those who have not. The relapsed are sometimes referred to as "ex-ex-gays".
- Michael Bussee (co-founder of Exodus International, one of the largest ex-gay groups; has since been a major critic of such groups and is now married to the other co-founder, Gary Cooper)
- Michael Johnston (founded the now-defunct ex-gay movement called Kerusso Ministries, contacted gay men online and attended gay parties where he had un-safe sex and "forgot" to tell his partners that he had HIV.)
- John Paulk (1963-) (after being "cured" in 2000, went to a DC gay club to celebrate this fact with other gays. In 2013, he announced he had accepted himself, was divorcing his ex-lesbian wife, and apologised for promoting reparative therapy.)
- Mordechai Levovitz, an Orthodox Jew who works with other victims of reparative therapy.
Not (publicly) relapsed (yet)
- Joe Dallas (1954-) is the founder of Genesis Counseling in Tustin, California.
- Michael Glatze (1975-) is a former-LGBT rights activist.[notes 1]
- Giuseppe Povia (1972-) is an Italian rock singer-songwriter
- Charlene Cothran is a former-LGBT rights activist who converted to Christianity.
- Dennis Jernigan (1959-) is a singer-songwriter of contemporary Christian music.
“”People have tried all kinds of things because none them really work. The people who offer these kind of treatments often are not licensed. They’re not bound by any state regulatory bodies for the kind of work they do.
|—Dr. Jack Drescher, MD|
In theory, reparative therapy camps, even those outside of American jurisdiction, could be sued for torts committed against American citizens. First, it is a well-settled concept of jurisdiction that where a facility avails itself of the United States market, it can potentially (i.e., with a skilled lawyer) be sued in the United States. The basic touchstone of jurisdiction is foreseeability and fairness, and where a camp's population is 100% American citizens, surely it ought to be "on notice" of being covered by American laws. Venue would likely be proper in America following a forum non conveniens motion. From an American venue, a vast sum of torts — intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, battery, tortious negligence, and likely statutory crimes — could be levied against the camp, but, more importantly, an effective public relations campaign could be fought.
A cursory Lexis search shows that no litigation has yet erupted around the abuses occurring at reparative therapy camps, except the criminal prosecution in California of one member of Casa by the Sea (a camp in Ensenada, Mexico), and a reporter investigating the same suing them for defamation and interference with contractual relationship with his publisher: apparently, Casa by the Sea does not like people knowing what's going on there.
In late 2012, California passed a law (SB1172) banning "gay repair" therapy on minors, followed by New Jersey in August 2013. Sadly, the bills only apply to licensed therapists, so Good Christian Parents can still send their kids to whackjob "clerical counsellors" to try and
beat torture pray the gay away; such a bill would probably face constitutional challenges on "religious freedom" grounds. On the other hand, also in New Jersey, a jury found that a "reparative therapy" camp had committed consumer fraud against adult LGBT Jews who tried to go through with their bullshit and then sued when it didn't work; it is likely that this theory will hold up legally (although whether a jury will buy it is another matter) in most states, as consumer protection laws are largely similar across the country.
The country of Ecuador banned this activity (thank you Ecuador!). Several jurisdictions within the United States have also done so, including the state of Colorado and the city of Seattle. Debora Juarez, a Native American woman on Seattle's City Council, likened reparative therapy to the torture practiced in 19th- and 20th-century boarding schools to coerce Native children into renouncing their tribal heritage.
- A Clockwork Orange
- Alcoholics Anonymous (you can pray the drunk away too!)
- Faith healing
- Gay rights
- Primal therapy — claimed, at least in its early incarnation, to "cure" homosexuality along with a boatload of other "neuroses" by screaming them away
- Same-sex marriage
- Wilderness therapy — aimed at "behavior modification" for "troubled teens" in general, possibly has some overlap with reparative therapy.
- Corrective rape
- Conservapedia:Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality
- Gay Christian Movement Watch (Exposing the Unfruitful Works of Darkness) A "Christian" website that promotes reparative therapy while opposing any Christian who unrepentantly comes out. (Archive link, original domain expired and turned into a parking page)
- Beyond Ex-gay If you still think reparative therapy is for you, you may want to visit this website before going into "therapy."
- Current APA policy on sexual orientation
- Conversion Therapy Fails to Pray Away the Gay, Miller-McCune
- Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, Judith M. Glassgold, chair (2009).
- Mormon Lesbian Teen Was Forced to Carry Backpack of Stones to “Feel the Burden of Being Gay”
- According to this article, he is now bisexual and lives in San Francisco.
- A Survivor Of Gay Conversion Therapy Shares His Chilling Story, Huffington Post
- Haldeman, Douglas C. (December 1999). "The Pseudo-science of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy". Angles. Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies. http://drdoughaldeman.com/doc/Pseudo-Science.pdf. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
- See the Wikipedia article on Conversion therapy.
- "Position Statement on Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation (Reparative or Conversion Therapies)" (PDF). American Psychiatric Association. May 2000. Archived from the original on 2011-01-10. http://web.archive.org/web/20110110120228/http://www.psych.org/Departments/EDU/Library/APAOfficialDocumentsandRelated/PositionStatements/200001.aspx. Retrieved 2007-08-28. archived from the original
- Glassgold, JM; et al. (2009-08-01). "Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation" (PDF). American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf. Retrieved 2009-09-24.
- "Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK" (PDF). January 2015. http://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/UKCP_Documents/policy/MoU-conversiontherapy.pdf. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
- "General Medical Council supports Memorandum on conversion therapy in the UK". January 2015. http://www.gmc-uk.org/news/26043.asp. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
- "Professional Standards Authority supports action by Accredited Registers on Conversion Therapy". January 2015. http://www.professionalstandards.org.uk/footer-pages/news-and-media/latest-news/news-article?id=db1f5a9e-2ce2-6f4b-9ceb-ff0000b2236b. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
- Upon personal information, this user knows a young man sent to Casa by the Sea, a camp in Mexico. The man — then a boy — didn't see his reflection for a year, his education became nonexistent, and in other pertinent matters, was psychologically tortured and lost a year of his life. For a (comparatively) mild case, read this.
- Brief expose by Lynn Conway
- http://188.8.131.52/~spodden/16/16_hbt.mp3 (Interview begins at 30:55)
- See the Wikipedia article on Sigmund Freud's views on homosexuality § 1935 letter.
- Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health, UC Davis
- "The Psychological Profession and Homosexuality: Lunatics Running the Asylum?"
- A Few Things Writers Need To Know About Sexuality & Gender Expression
- APA Council of Representatives Passes Resolution on So-Called Reparative Therapy, UC Davis
- Can Epigenetics Explain Homosexuality? Can Epigenetics Explain Homosexuality? Scientists propose a new model for how homosexuality develops, but observers say it will be difficult to test by Sabrina Richards, The Scientist 1 January 2013.
- Homosexuality as a Consequence of Epigenetically Canalized Sexual Development by William R. Rice et al. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 87, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 343-368. DOI: 10.1086/668167.
- Obama calls for end to 'gay conversion therapies'
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, episode 3.02, Family values
- Emma Graham-Harrison and Shaunagh Connaire. "Chinese hospitals still offering gay 'cure' therapy, film reveals" The Guardian (Thursday 8 October 2015 05.00 BST)
- "They want you, they want you/They want you as a new recruit" "Who me?" "They want you, they want you/They want you as a new recruit…"
- The Chaser's War on Everything's "Nut Job of the Week" segment. (Originally aired on ABC1 on June 20, 2007.)
- Pastor 'cures' gay teens by getting them to stroke horses
- The Advocate: Jon Stewart Smacks Down Reparative Therapy Proponents
- Anti-Gay Therapist Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a Vatican Adviser, Suspected Of Sex With Male Clients
- Prominent French priest and Vatican adviser accused in sex scandal
- The Newly Refurbished Michael Johnston, Ex-Gay Watch
- ‘Moral Failing’: Michael Johnston, Kerusso Ministries Ex-Gay Watch
- John Paulk, former Christan ex-gay spokesman recants and apologizes, Washington Post
- 'Conversion Therapy' Viewed as 'Quackery' by Gay Man Who Lived It by Avianne Tan, ABC News Apr 10, 2015, 3:45 PM ET
- Genesis Counseling
- Now closed (Victory!) See the Wikipedia article.
- California governor OKs ban on gay conversion therapy, calling it 'quackery', CNN.
- Chris Christie signs reparative therapy ban, Huffington Post
- The End of Gay Conversion Therapy: A New Jersey jury found a Jewish counseling group designed to turn people straight is guilty of consumer fraud. Experts predict other states may soon do the same by Olga Khazan (Jun 26, 2015) The Atlantic.
- LGBT Nation
- The Stranger