GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus:"Ex-Gays" & "Conversion Therapy"

Anti-gay activists have argued for years that sexual orientation is a choice and changeable – but only for lesbians and gay men, not heterosexuals. They often claim "homosexuality" is not real, but only a form of mental illness or an emotional disorder that can be "cured" through psychological or religious intervention. Anti-gay activists claim that being gay is a curable condition, and therefore lesbians, gay men and bisexual people do not need or deserve equal treatment under the law or protection from discrimination.

Such programs have come under increased scrutiny recently. The largest program, Exodus, closed in 2013, apologizing for the harm that was caused by those who participated in its programs. Additionally, lawsuits have been filed against other "ex-gay" programs, noting that they did not produce the orientation change promised, but instead brought great harm to those who participated.

American Psychiatric Association
The American Psychiatric Association has condemned the "treatment" of "homosexuality," saying, "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

American Psychological Association Report (2009)
In 2009, a task force of the American Psychological Association drafted a landmark report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. Following a comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed research on what the APA labeled "sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)" the APA "concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates." The APA's governing body adopted the report's recommendations by an overwhelming 125-4 vote.

In addition, the American Medical Association, the National Mental Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have also spoken out against these attempts to "cure" lesbian, gay men and bisexual people.

States banning "conversion therapy" for minors
Many "ex-gay" organizations claim that they only help people who want to live their lives in accordance with their religious beliefs, and that they only offer their programs for people who want to change. However, many participants in "ex-gay" programs are youth who are not enrolling of their own will, but being forced into such programs by parents who have been told by religious leaders that they must change their child. A handful of states have begun examining the harm done by "ex-gay" programs. At the time of this writing, California and New Jersey have now banned the practice on anyone under 18 years of age, and other states may follow suit.

Terminology
In reporting, the terms "conversion therapy" or "reparative therapy" should be avoided whenever possible (except in quoted material), as it is most often used to insinuate that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are "disordered" or "broken" and need to be "repaired." It is usually best simply to describe the actions and motivations of those who seek to change the orientation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Science, Research & Reporting
When reporting on scientific opinions or research on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, please consult with acknowledged, qualified experts in the appropriate scientific discipline(s) to assess the quality of scientific studies and methods before legitimizing them through media reports. In addition, be careful not to overstate or misstate the findings or implications of new research.

Ex-Gay Survivors
Any story about "ex-gay" programs should include the perspective of "ex-gay" survivors. For each "success story" featured by "ex-gay" activists, there are hundreds who have gone through the programs with no change in orientation, but who have suffered trauma, depression, even suicidal thoughts or actions. Networks like Beyond Ex-Gay have been created to provide support and healing for those who have been harmed by ex-gay programs. Beyond Ex-Gay has surveyed survivors of "ex-gay" programs, and the results may be found on their web site.

 

Return to GLAAD Media Reference Guide Home