The Torture of “Conversion Therapy” Must Be Banned Across the Country

This is a guest post by Rick Snedeker. He writes at the Apostate Apostle blog.

A Florida man says he was tortured in middle school in the early 2000s during “conversion therapy” to “cure” his homosexuality.

It didn’t work.

Sam Brinton recalled being forced to undergo the deeply traumatic sessions because his devout Southern Baptist missionary parents “wanted to erase my existence as a newly out bisexual,” he wrote in an op-ed published Wednesday in the New York Times. It probably doesn’t need repeating, but fundamentalist Protestants, including Baptists, believe the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a grave sin, as do many other Christians.

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For over two years, I sat on a couch and endured emotionally painful sessions with a counselor. I was told that my faith community rejected my sexuality; that I was the abomination we had heard about in Sunday school; that I was the only gay person in the world; that it was inevitable I would get H.I.V. and AIDS.

To rid him of the “abomination,” Brinton said he was restrained on a table while the counselor applied ice, searing heat, and electric shocks to his body. While being tormented in these ways, he wrote, he was forced to watch videos of gay men hugging, holding hands and having sex — theoretically using aversion to affect a conversion, akin to making a child smoke a whole bunch of cigarettes to make him sick of ever even seeing another cigarette again.

I have begun to repair the damage that conversion therapy caused me and my family. But the failed promise of change has very likely caused a permanent tear in our relationship.

Brinton trashes the idea that the concept of “conversion therapy” is “an artifact of the past.” In fact, only nine states, the District of Columbia and 32 municipalities legally prohibit the practice today, even though homosexuality was removed as a formal pathology in 1972 from the American Psychiatric Association’s influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The DSM is the psychiatric profession’s primary global resource for diagnosing psychiatric aberrations. In 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).

Yet, more than 700,000 Americans (some 350,000 as adolescents) have undergone so-called “conversion therapy,” according to a new report from the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank that focuses on gender and sexual-orientation law and public policy. The study also projects that 20,000 American LGBTQ teens will undergo the procedure from a health-care professional before the age of 18; another 57,000 will receive it from religious or spiritual advisors. This, despite the practice being rejected as harmful and ineffective by every prominent health organization, including the American Medical and American Psychological associations, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Brinton wrote.

The trauma of the process can manifest later in victims’ depression, thoughts of suicide, family strife, and other negative effects. The Trevor Project, for whom Brinton serves as head of advocacy and government affairs, is part of a national effort to pass legislation in every state banning so-named “conversion therapy.” In the past few weeks, four states — Virginia, Washington, Arizona and Missouri — introduced bills to ban the procedure, but other states remain hesitant. In a close vote, New Hampshire recently rejected legislation that would have protected LBGTQ youngsters.

American public opinion regarding gender identity and sexual expression has sharply evolved in recent years to the point that most citizens now favor same-sex marriage and normalization of gender differences — and their legality and practice have become legally protected. The split, though, remains as it has since the Enlightenment, with people who value the veracity of empirical science being far more tolerant and accepting of human sexual variations than those who remain in thrall to the unprovable speculations of religious ideology.

It’s the age-old conflict between evidence and dogma.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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