- Conversion therapy’s main goal is to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Conversion therapists often use shame, emotional trauma, and physical abuse, in an attempt to make victims associate such things with their LGBTQ identities.
- The practice is banned in 18 states and Washington, DC, and has been denounced by LGBTQ organisations, discredited by medical professionals, and called harmful by the American Psychiatric Association.
- According to a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA published in 2018, more than 698,000 people have undergone conversion therapy in the United States, and thousands more will likely face the discredited therapy.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The founder of one of the most prominent gay conversion therapy programs in the United States came out as gay last week, disavowing the practice that he dedicate his life to.
McKrae Game, who led the faith-based conversion therapy program Hope for Wholeness for two decades, told The Post and Courier that the practice was a “lie,” “very harmful,” and “false advertising.”
The practice is banned in 18 states and Washington, DC, and has been denounced by LGBTQ organisations, discredited by medical professionals, and deemed destructive by the American Psychiatric Association and many other organisations.
And yet, people are still undergoing it.
Conversion therapy’s main goal is to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Often, LGBTQ individuals are isolated from their friends and family at camps and conferences where they’re coached into believing their gender identities and sexual orientations are unnatural or sinful.
Conversion therapists often use shame, and emotional trauma, physical abuse, in an attempt to make victims associate such things with their LGBTQ identities.
According to a study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, published in 2018, more than 698,000 people have undergone conversion therapy in the United States, and thousands more will likely face the discredited therapy in the future.
The practice of trying to ‘cure’ homosexuality dates back more than a century
Conversion therapy dates back to at least the 1890s, when German psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing said at a conference that he had successfully turned a gay man straight through hypnosis, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
At the time, being in a same-sex relationship was considered criminal, and many doctors were looking into ways to reverse homosexuality.
Some doctors, like Austrian endocrinologist Eugen Steinach, led testicle transplantation experiences in which gay men were castrated then given “heterosexual testicles” from other males.
Others saw homosexuality as a mental disorder and began using psychiatric interventions in an attempt to “cure” people with gender identities and sexual orientations different from what was seen as the norm. This included the use of lobotomies and aversion therapy, in which doctors tried to make LGBTQ-identifying people disgusted by homosexuality.
In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). A year later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower banned homosexuals from working for the federal governments.
But as gay rights organisations and movements formed in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, psychiatrists started to distance itself from conversion therapy.
In 1973, the APA reversed the listing and removed homosexuality from the DSM.
The APA said in a 2013 statement: “The American Psychiatric Association does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change. No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.”
Faith-based groups backing conversion therapy emerged in the 1990s
Self-proclaimed “experts” and faith-based groups then started getting involved in gay-conversion therapy, launching camps and conferences to “pray the gay away” through not only faith, but also exorcisms and emotional and physical abuse, and sexual violence.
The practice peaked in the late 1990s and 2000s, when religious groups like Love in Action, Hope for Wholeness and Brothers on a Road Less Travelled were launched with goals of ending “unwanted and incongruous same-sex attractions.”
While the therapy, also known as “reparative therapy,” has been rejected and denounced by mainstream medical and mental health organisations for decades, the practice is still conducted across the US.
The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in its 2018 study that more than 20,000 LGBTQ youth will undergo conversion therapy of some kind before they turn 18.
Former leaders of prominent conversion therapy groups are coming out as gay and denouncing their practices
A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in March found that 80 per cent of polled responders believed that conversion therapy on minors should be illegal.
In July, Amazon pulled conversion therapy books off its website after facing backlash from customers.
Google, too, removed an app that promoted conversion therapy techniques.
Now, even former leaders of the movement are speaking out, with some coming out as gay themselves. In recent years, men behind Love in Action, Hope for Wholeness and Journey into Manhood have all come out as gay.
John Smid, the former director of the Memphis, Tennessee-based Love in Action, which was the focus of the 2018 film “Boy Erased,” married a man in Oklahoma in 2014, according to Huffington Post.
While he was considered one of the most prominent leaders of the modern conversion therapy movement, he resigned from Love in Action in 2008 and divorced his wife later that year.
He later told The Lone Star Q, according to the Huffington Post: “I’ve believed in faith that something was going to happen, and it never did, and so at my age, right now in my life, I don’t have that many good years left in me, and I can’t live like this for the rest of my life, so I said no I’m not willing to keep pushing after something that’s not going to happen.”
He now runs a Christian fellowship group called Grace Rivers, for LGBTQ-identifying people who want a relationship with God.
David Matheson, once a prominent Mormon conversion therapist with the program Journey into Manhood, announced in January that he had divorced his wife of 34 years to pursue life as a gay man.
Matheson blamed the “shame-based, homophobic-based system” of the Mormon Church in which he was raised, and acknowledged he hurt people through is therapy program, according to NBC News.
“I know there are people who won’t be satisfied by anything less than a complete and unequivocal renunciation of everything,” Matheson said to NBC News. “That’s hard, because I want people to feel the genuineness of my change of heart, but people need to understand that there is more than one reality in the world.”
McCrae Game, meanwhile, disavowed the “harmful” conversion therapy while coming out as gay in August.
“Conversion therapy is not just a lie, but it’s very harmful,” Game told The Post and Courier. “Because it’s false advertising.”
He called himself a “religious zealot,” saying: “People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them. People, I know, are in therapy because of me. Why would I want that to continue?”
Conversion therapy can amplify ‘shame and stigma’ among LGBTQ youth
The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth, says conversion therapy “amplifies the shame and stigma that so many LGBTQ young people already experience.”
Conversion therapy programs can instill feelings of rejection within children, and can be extremely harmful to people.
“In a study by San Francisco State University, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who were rejected by their families and caregivers due to their identities were nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression and more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide when compared to youth from accepting and affirming families and caregivers,” the organisation said.
“Few practices hurt LGBTQ youth more than attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. All youth deserve a climate in which they are loved and embraced.”
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