Richard Socarides Talks Coming Out to His Father, a Founder of "Ex-Gay Therapy"

LGBT rights activist, attorney and former-adviser on gay rights to Bill Clinton, Richard Socarides recently sat down with I'm From Driftwood to discuss coming out to his father, Dr. Charles W. Socarides, M.D, who was one of the founders of the theories behind so-called "ex-gay therapy."

Richard Socarides' story is certainly a powerful one. Though his parents divorced when he was six, Richard's close relationship with his father prompted him to move in with his dad when he was thirteen.  As the younger Socarides began to understand his sexuality, the elder Socarides became known for his theories. The family lived in a townhouse that held Dr. Socarides office on the lower floor. The coincidence is not lost on Richard, who says, "on the top level there was this kid coming out and on the bottom level there were these people who were going to be cured of their homosexuality." Despite what might be seen as a negative environment, Richard writes, "I was never interested in changing my sexual orientation. For some reason, despite my background, I always considered it a gift and just a part of who I was."

For a long time, Richard avoided discussing his love life with his father. By the time he was in law school, most of his close friends knew that he was gay. Though his father's reaction to his coming out was initially very negative, and a few months passed where they did not speak, Dr. Socarides eventually wrote his son a four page letter which essentially said, "You're the most important person to me in my life and I love you and the only thing that is important to me is your happiness and if this is what makes you happy I want to support you." Richard admits, though, it was not always easy after that, because his father did not change what he was saying to the public about there being a "cure" for homosexuality. As Richard became a well-known advocate for equality, he didn't want his work to be seen in the context of his father's. He tried to avoid talking about it as much as possible.  

Richard also became "sometimes embarrassed for [his father], as his professional reputation became interconnected with a theory that was, over time, wholly discredited."

Indeed Dr. Socarides' theories and all other incarnations of so called "ex-gay therapy" have been denounced by the American Medical Association, the Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Counseling Association, among others. GLAAD and other advocates have been telling media for years that they must be sure to explain the policies of the leading medical and psychiatric associations when reporting on so-called "conversion therapy," so that the experiences of the young people Richard's father saw will not be replicated.

The idea that being gay can somehow be "cured" is not only outdated and incorrect, but also dangerous. For anyone to report on such therapies as accepted, or even open to debate, is irresponsible. One need only look to stories of survivors of these programs to understand how harmful they can be.

Richard's is one of the most compelling and powerful stories in the I'm From Driftwood project, because of his connection to this incredibly harmful practice, and because of the role he would go on to play in the movement towards LGBT equality.

Founded by Nathan Manske, the name for the I'm From Driftwood story project came from a photo of Harvey Milk holding a sign that read, "I'm from Woodmere, NY." Manske says that, to him, the sign "meant that there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in every small town and every big city across America and the world." Manske is from Driftwood, NY. The mission of I'm From Driftwood  is "to help LGBTQ people learn more about their community, straight people learn more about their neighbors and everyone learn more about themselves through the power of storytelling and story sharing."