Hopes were high for the LGBTQ community when the Queen of England announced an upcoming conversion therapy ban. The euphoria quickly subsided when the measure was reportedly postponed for a round of “consultation”. Given the incontrovertibly dire consequences of “ex-gay” programs, what exactly is left to consult on?
Every respected medical and mental health organization in the world reject conversion practices as harmful and ineffective. The American Psychiatric Association says that attempts to change one’s sexual orientation can lead to “anxiety, depression and self-destructive behavior” including suicide. In 2018, San Francisco State researcher Dr. Caitlin Ryan published a study that discovered, “Parent-initiated attempts to change participant’s sexual orientation during adolescence were associated with more negative mental health problems for young adults.”
The BBC reports that the government wants to ensure they are “protecting the medical profession, defending freedom of speech, and upholding religious freedom”, as well as protecting “legitimate forms of pastoral support”. The problem is, there is no legitimate way to “pray away the gay” and promises by organizations to do so amount to consumer fraud.
In terms of religious freedom, conversion practices have nothing to do with the ability to worship and everything to do with ideologues promoting ineffective programs, often for a hefty fee, that use shame and coercion to mentally terrorize LGBTQ people. In the same way religion can’t be used to deny children medical care or justify beating them with objects, it should not be exploited to carve out loopholes that allow “ex-gay” conversion practices.
To make their sadistic programs more palatable to the public, “ex-gay” industry honchos peddle the fiction that they are in the business of providing clients an avenue for sexual “exploration”. Irish activist Hartmut Rus is correct when he says, “Exploring identity is a classic conversion therapy [diversion] concept”, and referred to the tactic as a “long term coming out avoidance strategy.” He says that, “people who cannot adapt will run into a dangerous outcome.”
Instead of an open mind towards sexuality, the late conversion therapist Joseph Nicolosi typified the actual position of “ex-gay” leaders when he once said, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy”.
The experience of former “ex-gay” leaders reinforces the notion that conversion groups are more about Cancel Culture, intolerance and groupthink, than a legitimate journey towards sexual authenticity. The moment these former “ex-gay” activists diverged or dissented from the Party Line, they were ruthlessly purged and cruelly abandoned.
Love in Action director John Smid recalls how he was swiftly shunned for acknowledging that he is still a gay man after decades of ministry. “They either ghosted me, meaning they either slid out of my life with no word, or they challenged me, telling me how wrong I was and then left. It’s been painful to have such a deep relationship with these people, to find that I make this shift in my life and they are nowhere to be found. They’re gone.”
Exodus International co-founder Michael Bussee had a similar experience. “When Gary [a co-founder of Exodus who became Bussee’s partner] and I left in 1979, I sort of thought that the leaders of other ‘ex-gay’ programs would reach out to us in love. Instead, I got hate mail saying that on the final day, Gary and I would be pushed into the fiery pit of Hell. And I thought, ‘this is the unconditional love that you guys have been preaching?’”
Randy Thomas, former vice president, Exodus International was dispirited by the level of vitriol directed at him when he decided to renounce “ex-gay” ministry and live his truth.
“These people that I had defended, protected, promoted, looked out for, worshipped at some point, they turned on a dime. They were just incredibly hateful. That really was an eye opener on how…even questioning the groupthink would become so punishing.”
Former Exodus Board member, Roy Blankenship, was also “cancelled” when he finally came out to people in church that he thought loved and respected him.
“I would not have believed that we as Jesus followers and people who say we love Jesus could treat someone the way that I was treated by many people. But, it was that way. I ended up having to block every one of them for the most part, and went from having a huge community of relationships to none.”
Sadly, the BBC reports that “about 5% of 108,000 people who responded to a 2018 LGBT government survey said they had been offered some form of conversion therapy, while 2% had undergone it.” None of these people are better off for having entered programs designed to promote self-loathing, shame and denial. None of them were on a journey of sexual self-discovery, but were made to think that heterosexuality was the only acceptable option.
The UK government needs to understand that sexual conversion is always a form of dangerous coercion. The LGBTQ community has been patient and calm. Now, it’s time to finally (and quickly) do what’s right and carry on by banning all “ex-gay” conversion practices.