This week, The New York Times ran an article on so-called “ex-gay” programs entitled “‘Ex-Gay’ Men Fight Back Against View That Homosexuality Can’t Be Changed.” The article profiles several men going through programs to attempt to change their sexual orientation, without mentioning the specific harms that come from such programs, or the fact that it was just a few short months ago when the New York Times called “ex-gay” programs “absurd” in an editorial.
Last summer, during a spike of media attention on so-called “ex-gay” programs, GLAAD released a fact sheet for reporters covering so-called “ex-gay” programs. These facts are still relevant to this story, and any reporters that wish to cover such programs need to keep these facts in mind.
Notably absent from the article is an explanation of why that the nation’s most knowledgeable medical and mental health authorities have uniformly dismissed the idea that being gay is something that needs to be “treated,” and recognize that trying to do so can cause serious harm. These include the American Psychiatric Association; The American Psychological Association; The American Medical Association; The American Counseling Association; The American Academy of Pediatrics; and The National Association of Social Workers. While the online version of the article links to these resources, they are not spelled out for readers of the print version or for readers who don’t open the hyperlinks to outside pages.
The message of this article goes much farther than just the readership of the New York Times. Any parent uncomfortable with their child’s sexual orientation can now Google “ex-gay therapy,” land on this story, and be presented with alleged "evidence" of what would happen if they force their child to go through a similar program. A reader has to be vigilant and click through the story to find factual information of the serious harm that comes from such programs.
The other voice missing from the story was that of “ex-gay survivors;” people who have gone through such programs and come out with deep emotional and psychological scars. Their traumatic experience is not represented anywhere in the New York Times article.
Profiling people who want their lives to be “proof” that such programs “work,” comes with the responsibility of profiling people who are still working through the harm that has been caused through such programs.
“I spent seventeen years and over $30,000 on three continents trying to change, or at least suppress, my orientation and gender differences, resulting in significant psychological damage that has taken me years to overcome,” stated Peterson Toscano, who was a part of two different “ex-gay” programs. “After working for years to be able to speak out about the harm I experienced in an ‘ex-gay’ program, I find that I’m silenced once again through stories like what I see in the New York Times.”
Stories of so-called “ex-gay” programs need to have full context as to what such programs promise, what they really can deliver, the reason for the condemnation of the medical profession, and the stories of those who are recovering from such programs. Highlighting a few people who are going through ‘ex-gay’ programs without explaining the universal condemnation of professional medical organizations or including the stories of those who have been traumatized by their experiences in such programs paints a misleading picture for people who are learning to accept themselves or their children’s sexual orientation. With so many parents and children being impacted by these programs, media should present fully inclusive reports on so-called “ex-gay” stories.