One of the things that causes me vexations is where I hear an LGBTQ person talk about how safe we are now. That we have achieved a sense of acceptance and that people are more welcoming of who we are. I am not discounting the progress we have made in the last 50 years, it is truly fantastic how far we have come from the lows we were at. Having to scuttle around in darkness and going to secret bars that were sketchy at best. Having to use code words to identify ourselves to others. It is truly a progressive time but remember that there are still plenty of people and things that we need to be know about. Our own administration is tirelessly working to remove the advances our forebears bled over.
As of January 2019, only 14 states, the District of Columbia, and a few municipalities have passed any form of legislation banning conversion therapy, so in 36 states conversion therapy camps are legal and used. Wait conversion therapy, isn’t that where you stop using one facial product for another? Or is that where you swing from one religion to another, like Madonna has done or even John Travolta? Who is John Travolta? Stated simply, conversion therapy “is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions.” According to a definition for WikiLeaks.
The map shown here shows states that offer some form of Conversion Camp, granted it is a bit out of date, but it is still a rough idea. These camps are not regulated by any medical standard, nor are they regulated by the federal government. The means of treatment ranges in type. There are Mormon groups that attach electroshock devices to the genitalia of kids they are “treating” and force them to watch arousing imagery. Any time the react to homoerotic imagery they are given an electroshock as a means of deterrence. Many other Christian groups used mental tactics as a form of treatment instead. Their statements say that they use psychological and spiritual intervention to cure you of these sinful ways. If you have watched the movie “Boy Erased” you see many of the types of procedures that are used. From body posturing that appears to be more masculine to blaming it on repressed anger towards family members or blaming familial problems.
There are still two prominent groups that practice conversions therapy in the United States, People Can Change and Desert Streams. According to Tufts Independent Data Journal, People Can Change hosts three “experimental weekends” for their treatments and are divided based on the “condition” of the person entering the program. The first two weeks are for “men who want to resolve unwanted homosexual attractions.” The two programs are called Journey into Manhood and the Journey Beyond. “Journey into Manhood is a two-day retreat that uses a variety of methods to help men prevent their same-sex attractions, and Journey Beyond is for those who have graduated from this program.” They combine journaling, safe healing touch, visualization, intense emotional release work, and group sharing as a means of riding you of the unwanted attractions. They work from the premise that all non-heterosexual men are actually heterosexual and just have been affected in some way to create this attraction to other men. The course is defined to identify and work to overcome “reprogram” the desires to reawaken the heterosexuality. They claim no religious backing and solely work with people who volunteer for their program at $650 a person.
Desert Stream work on the premise of establishing support groups in churches They run six programs, but only three focus directly with Christians who are dealing is sexuality issues. The programs are called Falling Forward: Men Seeking Purity, Crosscurrent, and Living Waters. They advertise that they are designed for Christians that are struggling with “sexual and relational problems.” Their means of cure are described as “biblical wisdom, godly support, and the power of prayer.” If a church decided to start a group, Desert Stream provided training for the church to handle the issues.
These are only a couple of the MANY conversion therapy camps out there and appear, to the public, as the lightest in methods. I have known someone that is Mormon who underwent similar treatment and had been hooked up to an electroshock device. He was forced to sit in a room and watch images and if he had a reaction to any that were of a homoerotic nature, they would give him a shock. And to date, there is no substantial proof that any method of conversion therapy changes the sexual nature of a person. Often, as with recent media, those who underwent the therapy only lapse back into what they were originally. This can lead to depression of the individual and possible suicide. For a look into how it affected one person read this article “Went to church camp to ‘Pray the Gay Away'” It is the experience of Thomas High going through a conversion therapy process.
To keep in mind some of the horrors attributed to conversion therapy, let’s look at a few throughout the past few years. In 2009 the church Manifested Glory Ministries came under fire after posting a video to YouTube of a 16-year-old boy (seen above) undergoing an exorcism for being gay. They felt his condition was due to demonic possession and the video showed him writhing on the church floor as church members stood on his feet and hands to prevent him from moving. I have mentioned electroconvulsive therapy, but here is another event. Samuel Brinton grew up in rural Iowa as a gay boy. His family sent him to conversion therapy where they forced him to enter what was called the “Mouth of Hell.” Here they inserted tiny needles into his fingers and forced him to watch pictures of explicit acts between men and he would be electrocuted while viewing them. In June of 2011 in Hong Kong several companies hired a psychologist to give government sponsored training on conversion therapy. Some of the techniques prescribed were cold showers, prayer, and abstinence. Sure, when did forcing gay men not to have sex every cure them of being gay? Matthew Shurka underwent six years of conversion therapy and was subjected to a host of horrors, some of the more strange were not being allowed to see his mother and sisters as a means of curing the effeminate nature he had expressed. This did not work as he later went on to be the spokesperson for National Center for Lesbian Right’s anti-conversion therapy campaign. Even here closer to home Leelah Alcorn was forced onto Prozac and to attend conversion therapy churches to cure her of her transgender identity. This ultimately led to her death and for President Obama to stand up against conversion therapy. Then there are the groups like NARTH, National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, that still profess that homosexuality is a mental disorder. What’s even worse is when these treatments turn to sexual abuse, take Dr. Melvyn Iscove. In March 2018, while claiming that homosexuality was a disease that could be overcome it came to light that he was also engaging in sexual abuse of the patients he was supposed to be helping. Two male clients came forward to state that Iscove had engaged in inappropriate contact with them after they confessed of having homosexual thoughts.
Our current Vice President, Mike Pence is a staunch support of conversion therapy. Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the Vice President, said he was misinterpreted and never made any statement in support. However, looking at his record for anti-LGBTQ rights. Remember that while governor of Indiana he signed into legislation a bill that would allow any business to cite religious freedom as a means of refusing service to LGBTQ people. He also voted against employment non-discrimination against LGBTQ people. He has even publicly argued for federal funding of conversion therapy and the reassignment of federal dollars for HIV/AIDS research if they were to go to any group that celebrated or encouraged behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
There is no cure for LGBTQ people, no conversion camp can fix you because you are not broken. In most cases, conversion therapy does far more damage that it does in helping an individual. Minors, unfortunately, suffer far more in these cases. They are kicked out by the family and friends, forced to endure torture that constantly tells them they are wrong and if they start to buy into it suffer deep depression because they realize they still have the same desires. Just remember that you are perfect the way you are. It would do far better for our parents and people around us to go through education on what it means to be LGBTQ to gain a bit of understanding to who we are and how we are not that different. If you are a minor and are going through a situation in which you need help, please reach out for support. There are plenty of placed to turn to talk, contact www.TheTrevorProject.org. They have staff who understand and are sympathetic to what you are going through. Fellow Cleveland LGBTQ people, if you need help you can reach out to the lgbtcleveland.org, LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland for assistance. Also check out my resource page, there are sources you can turn to. If you need help, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You have support, please reach out for assistance.