Media should portray issue as settled science, not ongoing debate
Recent developments concerning so-called “ex-gay” programs will likely capture media attention. When reporting on this issue, it is absolutely critical that journalists provide audiences with the proper context for this discussion.
This is not a topic where the health and welfare community is divided. This is not an issue on which experts disagree. This is not an ongoing debate, and should never be framed as such. Every single mainstream medical organization in the nation has denounced the idea of healthcare professionals attempting to “change” a person’s sexual orientation, and these methods are only practiced by a handful of organizations and individuals scattered around the country, all of which exist solely outside the world of modern, mainstream healthcare.
- California lawmakers recently passed SB 1172, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown and goes into effect on January 1st. The bill prohibits state-licensed therapists from engaging in so-called "reparative therapy" with minors. Governor Brown said "This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery."
- The Southern Poverty Law Center has joined with a group of orthodox Jewish men and their families in filing a consumer fraud lawsuit against JONAH – Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing – a New Jersey group which actively uses so-called “reparative therapy” to change sexual orientation. The lawsuit reveals the brutal and disturbing techniques used by the organization that put the plaintiffs at risk of “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” In the suit, the four men who survived JONAH’s therapy sessions detail what went on behind the scenes, recounting the wide-range of techniques that were used, some of which included group therapy sessions in various states of undress, visits to bath houses, “touch therapy,” violence against maternal effigies, and verbal disparagement.
- In response to tragic examples of the harmful psychological abuse inflicted on young people through dangerous sexual orientation conversion practices, also known as reparative therapy to convert or “repair” an individual’s sexual orientation, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) resolution on Wednesday. Joined at a press conference by advocacy leaders and survivors of psychological abuse from sexual orientation change practices, Representative Speier discussed the bill, as well as her efforts to investigate whether taxpayer funds have been used to reimburse therapists for this discredited and ineffective practice through the federal Medicaid or TRICARE healthcare programs.
Often, when covering stories of “ex-gay” programs, reporters are tempted to strive for “balance” – but this is no longer the correct tone to take on this issue. Anything that implies to an audience that the practice of such programs is an ongoing debate among medical and mental health professionals is journalistically irresponsible, and can actually cause harm.
So-called “ex-gay” programs have been thoroughly condemned by 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. 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.
The practice of reparative therapy has been widely repudiated by officials in the health community, with the World Health Organization in May declaring the practice “a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people” and that it “lacked medical justification.” In September, California became the first state in the country to ban reparative therapy for minors, with Gov. Jerry Brown declaring that such therapies “have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”
GLAAD has released a Resource Guide for journalists and those in the media who are covering stories about “ex-gay” therapy and conversion methods, which includes the full statements from each of the groups that have denounced the idea of a healthcare professional trying to “repair” an individual’s sexual orientation. Even though they have been rejected and discredited by every mainstream healthcare organization, these programs are still widely accessible to individuals questioning their sexual orientation, or – outside of California – parents who take issue with the sexual orientation of their children. It is imperative that the media report on this issue responsibly.