If you heard about a group of people who went around the country trying to "de-gay" people – using such techniques as cuddling "therapy," hitting pillows with a tennis racket, lipstick seminars for lesbians and touch football courses for gay men -- you'd probably be laughing uncontrollably. And with good reason: the notion that you can de-gay someone is as ridiculous as it sounds.
So why do those who actually market these absurd, discredited schemes continue, year after year, to garner mainstream media attention?
Despite scientific consensus by medical and mental health authorities that sexual orientation is neither voluntary nor changeable – and that attempts to turn gay people straight are actually quite harmful – so-called "ex-gay" activists and their long-discredited attempts to de-gay people are routinely legitimized through mainstream media coverage. In many cases, the reporters covering these groups approach them as if their politically motivated attempts to de-gay people were being discovered for the first time.
This site offers an overview of organized so-called "ex-gay" groups and their discredited de-gayification techniques. And it shows how they use them to divide and destroy loving families, alienate gay people from their faith, and make it harder for loving, committed couples to take care of each other. It also provides important frameworks and questions for use whenever media are asked to promote these absurd yet dangerous claims in their coverage.
SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON SO-CALLED "EX-GAY" PRACTICES
The nation's leading medical and mental health authorities have uniformly dismissed the idea that being gay is something that needs to be "treated." Among them:
American Medical Association
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Psychological Association
American Psychiatric Association
National Association of Social Workers
American Counseling Association
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
The American Academy of Physicians Assistants
In 1998, the American Psychiatric Association unambiguously condemned attempts to de-gay people:
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. Many patients who have undergone "reparative therapy" relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed. Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as "reparative" or "conversion" therapy which is based upon the priori assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.
In 2006, the American Psychological Association also noted that efforts to de-gay people are scientifically unsound and "create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
“For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA’s concern about the position’s espoused by NARTH (The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”
NOTE FOR JOURNALISTS: If it becomes necessary to report on individuals and practices that claim to de-gay people, please consult with credible scientific authorities before proceeding.
THE HARM OF SO-CALLED "EX-GAY" PRACTICES
Those who engage in these politically based attempts to de-gay people usually preface their campaigns with a rhetorical question: “What harm is there in trying to change?”
On a superficial level , this sounds like a reasonable question – at least until one understands the concrete harm and trauma experienced by those who are subjected to these campaigns.
Many individuals said they wasted years of their lives, wasted thousands of dollars and suffered psychological and emotional trauma as a result of attempting sexual conversion. It is not uncommon to hear stories of so-called "counselors" who went to great lengths to create or exploit a sense of shame, humiliation or self-hatred in those they were claiming to "treat" – or in parents whose children and teens were viewed as possible targets for these dangerous so-called "therapies." Some who have endured such programs speak of attempts at suicide.
“If there were anecdotal reports of a medicine causing harm, even if the medication helped some people, the Food and Drug Administration would step in to evaluate whether or not the drug should remain on the market,” says Dr. Jack Drescher, an author and expert on the dangers of so-called "ex-gay therapies." “Sadly, there is no equivalent of the FDA to monitor and intervene in response to the growing number of people who are stepping forward to report harm they experienced from conversion therapies.”
THE SPITZER STUDY
In May 2001, Dr. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University released the results of a short-term study of so-called "ex-gay" therapy. Based on telephone interviews with a convenience sample of 200 subjects, Spitzer concluded that some "highly motivated" gay people could experience some level of "change" in their sexual orientation through therapy or other means.
Unfortunately, many who try to de-gay people continue to turn to this study as "proof" that such efforts are both effective and widespread.
Many in the scientific community have dismissed Spitzer's study because of its serious methodological flaws and conflicts of interest:
Spitzer recruited most of his subjects through two anti-gay activist groups: Exodus and the NARTH.
Spitzer intentionally excluded from his study anyone whose experiences with "conversion therapy" were not successful.
Spitzer's research did not mention or account for the existence of bisexuality on the continuum of sexual orientation, nor for the possibility that some of his subjects may have been bisexual.
Spitzer did not employ methods designed to quantify sexual attraction or the truth of his subjects’ claims of sexual transformation. He simply conducted telephone interviews.
Initial media coverage of the Spitzer study was largely inaccurate and sensationalistic. Outlets viewed the study solely through social and political filters, rather than on scientific merits (in fact, many media outlets sought religious or political spokespeople to discuss the scientific implications of the study). And many outlets misstated Spitzer's conclusions, resulting in headlines such as: "An explosive new study says some gay people can turn straight if they really want to."
Anti-gay and ex-gay groups continue to routinely misrepresent Spitzer's study and misstate the findings in his report. Spitzer has had to go to great lengths to clarify his study and, in some cases, criticize political groups for mischaracterizing his study:
“I understand that you are publicizing my statement that sexual orientation can be changed. I ask that you do not do this unless you also add my belief that such change is probably extremely rare.” (Spitzer letter to Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, asking him to stop misrepresenting the study, July 19, 2006)
NOTE FOR JOURNALISTS: We strongly urge media to review the methodology and misuse of the Spitzer study with independent social science experts before reporting on so-called "ex-gay" groups, most of whom will try to exploit and misrepresent the study to bolster their claims.
STEREOTYPES & FEAR-BASED APPEALS OF SO-CALLED "EX-GAY" ACTIVISTS
It is important to remember that the political and pseudoscientific groups that promote de-gayification do not rely on – and have long been discredited by -- credible social science research. There are no modern peer-reviewed studies that support so-called "ex-gay" groups or lend credibility to their outdated and long-abandoned theories about the nature of sexual orientation.
Groups like NARTH, Exodus International and Focus on the Family often resort to using outdated or discredited studies and present long-disproven stereotypes as though they are legitimate science.
For example, such groups still suggest that people can become gay if they have a rift with a same-sex parent (the "distant father" myth) or a have domineering opposite-sex parent (the "domineering mother" myth). It has been decades since any serious scientific body subscribed to these views and there is no contemporary research to uphold these anachronistic claims. Yet, NARTH’s co-founder Joseph Nicolosi continues to exploit them to instill fear and loathing of gay people in parents: “We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will."
Sadly, this claim is calculated to create guilt, shame, anxiety and fear in parents who have gay kids – or who may be questioning whether a child is gay. Such attempts to turn parents against their children can lead to resentment, ugliness, distrust and divided families.
COVERING SO-CALLED "EX-GAY" ACTIVISTS
Before offering a media platform to those who are in the business of trying to de-gay people, consider whether such coverage actually adds to public understanding of the issues. GLAAD has an overview of past media coverage regarding so-called "ex-gay" activists. Review existing coverage to determine whether there's any legitimate news value in yet another cycle spent rehashing these dubious claims.
Avoid use of misleading terminology. The term "ex-gay" is analogous to "pro-family" and "homosexual agenda." It represents an attempt by those who identify as such to short-circuit audience scrutiny of their claims by getting credible messengers (such as media outlets) to unwittingly legitimize and parrot their claims. It is better to describe what these groups attempt to do, rather than adopt and repeat the misleading terms that are part of their marketing strategy. If you must use the label to describe such activists, preface it with "so-called" (i.e., "so-called ex-gay activists") so that your audience does not misinterpret your use of their marketing language. Also, avoid uncritical use the term "change," another one of their loaded marketing terms (e.g., "Change is possible," "You can change").
Whenever covering so-called "ex-gay" activists, ensure that your audience understands the methods that these activists employ. Those who market de-gayification usually try to avoid any discussion of their methods. And for good reason – reasonable audiences will view them as bizarre or absurd. Shielding audiences from the facts about these activists' methods – and shielding the so-called "ex-gay" activists from having to defend them – does a disservice to any discussion of these issues.
Ask so-called "ex-gay" activists to clearly and unambiguously define what successful "change" looks like. And ask why those criteria have changed – and presumably will continue to change – so dramatically over such a short period of time.
Carefully scrutinize activists' claims about the number of people they have successfully de-gayed. The failure of those in the de-gayification business to document and track their subjects over time casts serious doubt on their ever-inflating numbers. For example, in 2003 Exodus' Alan Chambers claimed that there were "thousands of former homosexuals." By 2004, he announced that he knew "tens of thousands of people whom have successfully changed." In 2006, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that there were "hundreds of thousands." It is worth scrutinizing such claims in light of the fact that Exodus remains unable to produce any data to support them.
Be wary of those who try to use research to validate their attempts to de-gay people. Those who try to de-gay people often invoke research to make it seem as if their claims are based in science. To date, not a single credible study has offered any evidence that people can be turned from gay to straight. However, those who market such claims often produce studies from legitimate-sounding schools (like "Regent University," which is actually a religious institution founded by anti-gay activist Pat Robertson) or from people with Ph.D.s as "proof" that people can be de-gayed. Before covering (or allowing a so-called "ex-gay" activist to promote) "studies" on these issues, consult with experts on social science research methodology to ensure that such research is credible [see "The Spitzer Study" for additional information]. And if the studies they produce are between 10 to 30 years old, it's a strong indication that they are relying on outdated stereotypes and ignorance of the nature of sexual orientation.
Consider asking those who are in the de-gayification business to provide verifiable statistics on and longitudinal tracking of so-called "success stories." And talk to credible social science experts about the steadfast refusal of so-called "ex-gay" activists to collect and provide such data.
MEDIA SCREENING OF "EXPERTS"
One cause for skepticism of so-called "ex-gay" claims is the fact that there is only a handful of people who make them – almost all of whom are paid activists working for anti-gay groups. However, these activists are almost always marketed as "experts."
In addition to organizational heads of groups like Exodus and Love Won Out, two of most frequently cited "experts" in this area are Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the head of a group calling itself NARTH (the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) and a frequent speaker at anti-gay Focus on the Family conferences, and Warren Throckmorton, an unlicensed psychologist from Grove City College best known for producing a propaganda video called "I Do Exist," touting anecdotal claims about people who sought to de-gay themselves.
Promoting activists like Nicolosi or Throckmorton, neither of whom has authored any credible research in this area, as if they are objective researchers or social scientists is part of the marketing strategy of so-called "ex-gay" activists. Indeed, when media outlets pair them for debate purposes with credible social scientists, it simply elevates and legitimizes Nicolosi/Throckmorton's discredited claims.
Just as when media coverage examines medical science or physics, knowing how to differentiate between credible authorities and politically motivated (and usually self-proclaimed) "experts" is crucial for providing scientifically accurate information. GLAAD recommends that media engage in rigorous and independent vetting of all spokespeople in this subject area, before presenting them as credible spokespeople on these issues.
LIST OF SO-CALLED "EX-GAY" ACTIVIST GROUPS
Number of Staff Members: 15
Headquarters: Orlando, Fla.
Leadership: Alan Chambers, Executive Director. Randy Thomas, Vice President. Amanda Banks, Director of Government Affairs.
"Satan delights in homosexual perversion because it not only exists outside of marriage, but it also defiles God's very image reflected as male and female…Another related source of demonization is the homosexual relationship itself…That attachment and communion are indeed inspired, but their source is demonic." (Andy Comiskey, Exodus' Desert Stream Ministries; "Pursuing Sexual Wholeness;" Pg. 101-102)
"One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality. Satan, the enemy, is using people to further his agenda to destroy the Kingdom of God and as many souls as he can." (Alan Chambers; 2005 Exodus Impact Newsletter)
"We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by." (Alan Chambers; Family Impact Summit, Sept. 21, 2007)
Love Won Out
Number of Staff Members: 1,300
Headquarters: Colorado Springs, CO
Leadership: James Dobson, Founder; Mike Haley, Director of Gender Issues; Melissa Fryrear, Gender Issues Analyst
"I can draw anecdotally from having been a part of an Exodus member ministry for almost a decade, and in those years having met hundreds of women with this struggle, I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life." (Melissa Fryrear, Love Won Out conference, Phoenix, Feb. 10, 2007)
Love in Action
Budget: $750,000 ($336,000 from programs)
Number of Staff Members: 1-5
Leadership: John Smid, CEO
"I'm looking at that wall and suddenly I say it's blue," Smid said, pointing to a yellow wall. "Someone else comes along and says, 'No, it's gold.' But I want to believe that wall is blue. Then God comes along and He says, 'You're right, John, [that yellow wall] is blue.' That's the help I need. God can help me make that [yellow] wall blue." (John Smid, Love in Action CEO; Memphis Flyer, 1997)
Number of Staff Members: 1-3
Headquarters: Orlando, FL
Leadership: Scott Davis, Exodus Youth Manager
"Replace thoughts that aren't worthy of God with thoughts that are," Scott Davis, teaching youth how to stop masturbating; Time Magazine, Oct. 2, 2005)
Number of Staff Members: 1-3
Headquarters: Encino, CA
Leadership: Joseph J. Nicolosi, Ph.D. President
"The parents bring me kids who are unhappy. It's my job to increase the possibility of a heterosexual future for these effeminate boys," (Dr. Joseph Nicolosi; The Advocate Magazine; Nov. 11, 1997)
"Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it. It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society." (Dr. Charles Socarides; The Washington Post; Aug. 14, 1997)
"We advise fathers, if you don't hug your sons, some other man will." (Love Won Out conference, Phoenix, AZ; Feb. 10, 2007)
"When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy." (Love Won Out conference; Phoenix, AZ; Feb. 10, 2007)
Number of Staff Members: 3
Headquarters: Salt Lake City, UT
Leadership: David Pruden, Executive Director
"You knew your attractions were not right because of the f*g jokes you heard, so you learned to keep the feelings to yourself, creating further problems of isolation and secrecy, which are powerful forces that keep homosexual problems from being resolved."(Evergreen website)
Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX)
Number of Staff Members: 1
Headquarters: Fort Belvoir, VA
Leadership: Regina Griggs, Executive Director
Budget: Less than $25,000 - Funded by Archdiocese of New York
Number of Staff Members: 3
Headquarters: New York, NY
Leadership: Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, Director
"Courage is doing the work of God!" - Pope John Paul II
JONAH - Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality
Budget: Less than $25,000
Number of Staff Members: 1-3
Headquarters: Jersey City, NJ
Leadership: Rabbi Samuel Rosenberg/ Arthur Goldberg co-directors
"Same-gender marriages might have been too easy. As one essayist put it, male couples would have been able to sit around and watch ballgames all day; female couples would have been able to sit down and really talk about one another's feelings. But marriage is meant to challenge each of the partners." (Rabbi Beasley, Joel; Jewish Spectator, Winter 1998, pg 27)
Number of Staff Members: 1-3
Headquarters: Reading, PA
Leadership: “John J”
"Recovery from homosexuality is not so much a question of change as it is self-discovery. Homosexuality is the self-limiting of your personality. As you discover the Grace of God your true self-hood will be gradually released to enable you to become the person you always knew you could be, but feared you never would be." (HA Website; www.ha-fs.org/FAQ)
Here are some ways that you can help educate people in your community about so-called "ex-gay" activists:
Tell your story: Even if you have not been directly impacted by so-called “ex-gay” activists or their attempts to de-gay people, you can make a difference by sharing your story and being open with your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and other people in your community.
So-called “ex-gay” organizations try to convince gay and lesbian people that they are not worthy of love and acceptance and can never be whole. By living openly and talking about your own experiences, you can counter such misinformation and show that gay and lesbian people are fully capable of living happy, healthy and rewarding lives.
Allies have a vital role to play too by showing acceptance and affirmation for gay and lesbian family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors. By sharing your own journey to acceptance you can help other members of your community realize that one of the most important things they can do for the gay and lesbian people in their lives is to affirm and accept them.
If you have been subjected to these harmful practices, consider sharing your story. While the details of your experience may seem embarrassing – and describing the practices may feel silly – your story can help people understand how absurd these groups' claims really are, and turn a spotlight on the harm their practices cause.
Write a letter to the editor or op-ed: If your local newspaper publishes a story on the claims of so-called "ex-gay" activists, help them – and their readers -- understand the harm these discredited practices cause. GLAAD can help you craft an effective letter to your newspaper's editor that will help unmask the misrepresentations of those who claim they can de-gay people. : If one of these groups decides to market their de-gayification practices in your community, GLAAD can also help you write and place a successful op-ed.
Editorial board meeting: In some cases, it may be a good idea to meet with the editors of your local newspaper or news directors of your community television or radio stations. If a group of so-called "ex-gay" activists announces plans to come to your town, a meeting with local media leaders can help ensure they are well-informed on the issues so that they can make an informed decision about whether and/or how to cover their activities.
Organize a public forum: So-called "ex-gay" activists organize "conferences" in a handful of cities each year. If one is coming to your area, it may be helpful to organize a public education forum, a press conference, or some other gathering that will provide local residents with the facts about those who are in the de-gayification business. Consider inviting local health authorities and survivors of so-called "ex-gay" practices to speak on this topic.
Visit a so-called "ex-gay" group: If you hear that someone has started a local group to de-gay people, consider visiting it as an observer. The practices used by these groups often range from the bizarre to the ridiculous -- and the more Americans hear about what goes on inside these kinds of groups, the more skeptical they become. If you decide to attend one of these groups, contact GLAAD for additional information.