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Mainstream Media Covering So-Called "Ex-Gay" Programs

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So I've spent the better part of today sifting through, watching, and re-watching various clips of the mainstream media discussing the idea of so-called "ex-gay" therapy.

We've had our problems this year with various outlets trying to tackle this topic, some less successfully than others - with only Anderson Cooper really nailing it.  Before yesterday, there was something missing from much of the discussion - namely, the concrete harms that even attempting to change one's orientation can cause, and the fact that this idea has been discredited and discouraged by the America's mainstream (and impartial) medical, counseling and mental health communities.

Yesterday, the mainstream media largely did a solid job of pointing out that this type of "therapy" or "counseling" can be extremely dangerous and damaging, and is not accepted by knowledgeable experts in those fields.  MSNBC in particular did a great job of letting its viewership know where those experts stand, which is one of the things we asked that the media take into consideration yesterday. You can see much of the coverage that resulted here, at Towleroad.

But, this information - however crucial - also set up a bit of a framing problem, that the media did not do such a great job of dealing with. Namely, when you're putting forth the expert opinions of the mainstream medical, counseling and mental health communities on one side - and you're putting forth the opinions of members of the anti-gay industry who identify as being "faith-based" on the other - you end up making this seem like both sides are in complete agreement. "Doctors versus The Church."

And while the communities of professionals and experts who oppose the idea of trying to change a person's orientation ARE in fact, united - on the faith side, it's a very different story.

The reality is, not only are medical, counseling and mental health professional organizations against this idea – but so are millions upon millions of people of faith. It's fantastic that the media let its audience know about the secular organizations who tell families to love and accept their LGBT children rather than try to change them.  But what about the religious organizations that have the same message? As we said yesterday,

Three-quarters of the country identifies as Christian, but more than half of Americans say we need laws to protect the gay community from discrimination. (CBS Poll, June 2010) Among young people (18-29) 72% are supportive of gay and lesbian relationships. Even on the issue of marriage equality, the latest polls show the country split evenly, or with a slight majority in favor.

You can be Christian and gay, and you can be Christian and support equality for gay people. Many Christian denominations embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people just as they are, including the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA); many other denominations have congregations and clergy that welcome gay and lesbian people. 

There's another part of the framing problem, which is a bit simpler to explain - namely, the media loves things that rhyme.  Like this here.

And while the content of this segment did an excellent job of putting forth the facts, and making sure the audience that was listening knew about the harms this idea can cause ... this headline can cause problems. I don't know how many people at home were flipping through the channels, caught this out of the corner of their eye on their way to another show, and came away with the idea that one actually could do what this title implies.  I sincerely hope the answer is none.

There was one more problem - Why bring on someone who supports so-called "ex-gay therapy?"

I can only assume it's because the media loves the 'debate' format and has a hard time breaking from it, even when a purely investigative approach would do an infinitely better job of informing its audience. 

So who to bring on? Who else but Peter Sprigg from the the Family Research Council.

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Okay - where do we begin with this. 

Late last year, Chris Matthews had to take time out of a later show to clarify that the "research" being cited by Sprigg's boss, Tony Perkins, was not coming from a legitimate scientific organization, but rather a group of conservatives who banded together specifically to fight against LGBT equality.

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Jeremy Hooper at the blog Good As You has an exhaustive list of some of the Family Research Council's greatest hits:

...it is our duty to remind America of the kind of crude things that FRC staffers so routinely and unabashedly say about our lives and loves. Things like: Positioning us as a kid-threatening disaster in need of "ex-gay" therapy, churning out brochures that compare same-sex marriages to those bonds which might exist between a man and a horse (complete with horse photo), directly likens us to terrorists, calling LGBT rights a battle of "good versus evil," saying DADT repeal proponents are "willing to jeopardize our nation’s security to advance the agenda of the radical homosexual lobby,"…saying the gay activists who challenge FRC are "held captive by the enemy," writing that same-sex marriage will be "opening the door to all manner of moral and social evil, and calling on U.S. gays to be either "exported" or criminalized (to name just a few FRC eyebrow-jackers).

Joe My God reader Dave Evans put together a video of some more "highlights."

And there's even more that hasn't been mentioned. Wondering what FRC's take is on the issue of bullying and harassment of LGBT young people? From the FRC blog:

"The most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts is not to create a 'positive social environment' for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual." – Peter Sprigg

What about the proposed legislation that would create the death penalty for gay people in Uganda? Even FRC would agree that's too extreme and should be opposed, right? Again, from Joe My God:

Below are three screencaps of the 20-page Family Research Council lobbying report supplied to me by Duncan Osbourne at Gay City News. Among the other items they lobbied against are the overturn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense Of Marriage Act, which is to be expected. But it's almost astounding, almost, that they would lobby the members of Congress against denouncing the death penalty for LGBT people.

Yes, Family Research Council believes that opposing a bill that would allow Ugandans to be executed just for being gay equates to "Pro-homosexual promotion." 

Family Research Council has not studied this issue scientifically. These are not impartial experts, or scholars, or "researchers" on the issue of so-called "ex-gay" therapy.  They are a group of anti-gay activists whose only qualification is their persistence.  It makes sense to have R Clarke Cooper or any other Republican strategist on to discuss the potential political impact of this story.  It makes sense to have neutral experts who have studied this issue and can speak to the science behind it. But it makes no sense to have FRC on to talk about this.

Whew.

So now I'm asking myself, "Why, if I categorized the coverage as 'solid' and even 'great' ... did I spend the next dozen or whatever paragraphs talking about the problems with the coverage?"  And here's the answer.

The idea that a person needs to change their orientation to live in accordance with their faith is 100% false. The idea that a person COULD change their actual orientation if they wanted to is also 100% false.  Anything that implies that either of these statements is anything but completely and utterly false is dangerous, damaging, and could have dire consequences.

If even one parent who thinks his or her child might be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, sees media coverage of this issue and comes away with even a sliver of doubt as to whether so-called "ex-gay therapy" is a terrible idea - if even one parent thinks they don't need to love and accept their child exactly the way they are and that they can try to change them - if even one young person or adult sees one of these stories and decides to try it out for themselves - then the media has failed to cover this issue accurately.

That's why it's so important to get this story right - and to point it out every single time someone gets it wrong.

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