Resources for Journalists and Media Covering So-Called 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

July 12, 2011

Rich Ferraro
Director of Communications, GLAAD
(646) 871-8011

Aaron McQuade
Deputy Director of News and Field Media
(646) 871-8026

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) today is urging both local and national media to take special care when reporting on the idea of “ex-gay” therapy. We ask that any journalist who is reporting on these stories take the following into consideration:

  • The American Psychiatric Association; The American Psychological Association; The American Medical Association; The American Counseling Association; The American Academy of Pediatrics; The National Association of Social Workers -- These are IMPARTIAL groups that shape the way the country thinks about our well-being, and they have all stood up against this type of “counseling.” 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.
  • So many of these programs create guilt, shame, anxiety and fear in parents who have gay kids – or who may be questioning whether their child is gay. Such attempts to turn parents against their children can lead to resentment, ugliness, distrust and divided families. And in the end it’s the child who is put in harm’s way.
  • It’s irresponsible to paint “The Church” as an overwhelmingly anti-gay monolith – when that’s simply not true. Three-quarters of the country identifies as Christian, but more than half of Americans say we need laws to protect the gay community from discrimination. (CBS Poll, June 2010) Among young people (18-29) 72% are supportive of gay and lesbian relationships. Even on the issue of marriage equality, the latest polls show the country split evenly, or with a slight majority in favor.

    You can be Christian and gay, and you can be Christian and support equality for gay people. Many Christian denominations embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people just as they are, including the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA); many other denominations have congregations and clergy that welcome gay and lesbian people.  It's really important to note this.
  • By posing this issue in the form of a question (e.g., can you "pray the gay away?") you are implying that the issue is one that is open for debate among reasonable medical minds. These “question” frames are potentially harmful in and of themselves. By simply posing it as a question, you could be sending a harmful and FALSE message to young people and their parents and educators that this is still up for debate. Throughout ALL of the mainstream medical, psychological, academic and counseling communities, this question has already been answered definitively.
  • It is important to remember that the political and pseudoscientific groups that promote this idea 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. 


The American Psychiatric Association in its position statement on Psychiatric Treatment and Sexual Orientation states: 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.

The American Psychological Association in its Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, which is also endorsed by the National Association of School Psychologists, states: That the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation.

At the American Psychological Association’ annual meeting, August 10, 2006, the organization released the following statement: “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’ concern about the position’ espoused by NARTH and so-called conversation 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.

The American Medical Association in its policy statement on Health Care Needs of Gay Men and Lesbians in the United States reads: most of the emotional disturbance experienced by gay men and lesbians around their sexual identity is not based on physiological causes but rather is due more to a sense of alienation in an unaccepting environment. For this reason, aversion therapy (a behavioral or medical intervention which pairs unwanted behavior, in this case, homosexual behavior, with unpleasant sensations or aversive consequences) is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians. Through psychotherapy, gay men and lesbians can become comfortable with their sexual orientation and understand the societal response to it.

In July 2000, the AMA specifically addressed reparative therapy stating: (we) oppose any psychiatric treatment, such as “reparative” or “conversion” therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.

The American Counseling Association has adopted a resolution that states that it: opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation; and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based on ignorance or unfounded beliefs about same gender sexual orientation. Further, at its 1999 World Conference, ACA adopted a position opposing the promotion of “reparative therapy” as a “cure” for individuals who are homosexual.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in its policy statement on Homosexuality and Adolescence states: Confusion about sexual orientation is not unusual during adolescence. Counseling may be helpful for young people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation or for those who are uncertain about how to express their sexuality and might profit from an attempt at clarification through a counseling or psychotherapeutic initiative. Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.

The National Association of Social Workers in its Policy Statement on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues: endorses policies in both the public and private sectors that ensure nondiscrimination; that are sensitive to the health and mental health needs of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people; and that promote an understanding of lesbian, gay, and bisexual cultures. Social stigmatization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people is widespread and is a primary motivating factor in leading some people to seek sexual orientation changes. Sexual orientation conversion therapies assume that homosexual orientation is both pathological and freely chosen. No data demonstrate that reparative or conversion therapies are effective, and in fact they may be harmful.

NASW believes social workers have the responsibility to clients to explain the prevailing knowledge concerning sexual orientation and the lack of data reporting positive outcomes with reparative therapy. NASW discourages social workers from providing treatments designed to change sexual orientation or from referring practitioners or programs that claim to do so.