By Wayne Besen

As long as prejudice and violence against gay people exists in society, there will be a few gay men and lesbians who try to avoid discrimination by attempting to change their sexual orientation. These tormented individuals often fear coming out will mean rejection by family and friends, as well as withering condemnation in their house of worship. There are groups, unfortunately, who are in the business of exploiting these vulnerable and desperate people by peddling false hope and illusive cures for homosexuality. One such organization is the right wing political group Focus on the Family, which rolls into town this week with their anti-gay road show Love Won Out.While Focus on the Family has the right to prey on people who want to “change”, they also have the responsibility to tell the truth, which they do not. Instead of honesty, conference participants will get heavy doses of scientifically bankrupt theories and misleading information that conceals the true failure rate of so-called reparative therapy.

The facts on this subject are clear. Every leading medical and mental health organization says therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation is ineffective and can sometimes be dangerous. The American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all have policy statements questioning the efficacy of such treatments. The APA says that attempts to change sexual orientation can lead to “depression, anxiety and self destructive behavior.”

History seems to reinforce the policy statements of these esteemed medical and mental health organizations. Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, co-founders of Exodus International, the nation’s largest “ex-gay” group, denounced Exodus after divorcing their wives and holding a commitment ceremony together. Colin Cook, founder of Homosexuals Anonymous, was exposed as a fraud for giving nude massages and having phone sex with the very people he was supposed to be changing. Love Won Out also faced a scandal after the program’s director, John Paulk, was found lounging in a Washington, DC gay bar.

The truth is, the more people know about the techniques that are commonly used in reparative therapy the less credible it seems. For example, one commonly used method is the “rubber band technique” where a gay person wears a rubber band around his or her wrist and snaps it when he or she sees someone attractive of the same gender.

Another bizarre method reparative therapists use to cure homosexuality is called “Intrauterine Memory Recovery”. This method involves helping a person recover a traumatic memory that supposedly occurred while living in his or her mother’s womb. Of course, memory experts dismiss this technique pointing out that human beings can’t remember specific memories before two years of age.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, President of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and a prominent Love Won Out speaker, has a few strange ideas of his own. For instance, he postulates that “non-homosexual men who experience defeat and failure may also experience homosexual fantasies or dreams.” He also encourages his clients to act more masculine by drinking Gatorade or calling friends “dude.” Another leading NARTH member, Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, M.D. believes that anti-depressants such as Prozac may help cure homosexuality.

With such peculiar ideas, it is no surprise that groups such as Exodus and NARTH scrupulously avoid documenting their work. When asked by Newsweek magazine why he kept no statistics, Nicolosi replied that he “didn’t have time.” These groups continue to exist, not to help people, but to help religious political leaders like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and former Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell deny gay people equal rights. Their message is simple: Since gay people can “change” they do not deserve protection from discrimination.

A person who desperately wants to change sexual orientations has the right to pursue therapy, no matter how bizarre or ineffective. All we ask is that the organizers of Love Won Out and similar groups stop masking political intentions in the guise of false love and pseudo-science. We urge them to start keeping accurate statistics and provide conference participants with key information, such as the failures of supposedly “healed” leaders. To continue to manipulate vulnerable people for the purpose of advancing a religious political agenda is not faith healing, as conference leaders suggest, but faith hurting of the most cynical kind.

When those who are attending the conference learn to accept themselves for who they are and realize God loves them as openly gay men and women, they will finally find the peace and freedom they seek.