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Christian Conversion therapy almost killed Garry

Can we agree to end this? Banning conversion therapy in the US and the UK has proven very difficult

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Queen Elizabeth II delivers speech opening Parliament May 11, 2021 calling for ban of conversion therapy. (Photo: UK government)

Why would a successful doctor struggle with suicide?

By James Finn | Garry is a young MD in with a reputation as a sharp, caring GP. He runs a successful practice, loves his husband, and enjoys the respect of family and community. But his fulfilling life almost didn’t happen. A few years ago, a stint in Christian-sponsored conversion therapy left him obsessed with suicide.

An intervention led by genuine mental health professionals brought him back from the brink, and now he’s gone public to push for legal bans of the type of Christian “therapy” that almost killed him.

The issue is huge now in the UK where Garry lives. He told interviewer Claire Byrne of RTÉ Radio 1 that he’s speaking up because it’s time for his native Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to stop dragging their feet and finally ban conversion therapy.

Banning conversion therapy in the US and the UK has proven very difficult

Both leading political parties in the UK have promised for years to ban conversion therapy. Neither has managed. In the US, a national ban is a political non-starter. In US states that have banned conversion therapy for minors, religious loopholes are so big experts acknowledge the bans are little more than symbolic.

Programs like the one Garry attended operate all over the US, often targeting minors, even in states that ban the practice for minors. France is also struggling with a resurgence of conversion therapy despite a national ban.

In the UK, stiff religious resistance has torpedoed proposed bans, though that may be changing this year as the governing Conservative Party has recently recommitted to passing legislation.

The question is, how effective will any law be in the face of religious opposition? If the US, France, and Germany are any example, hardly effective at all.

Battling ‘unwanted same-sex attraction’

Have you heard the phrase “unwanted same-sex attraction?” It’s a new buzzword in conservative Christian circles, from Evangelical to Roman Catholic, all over the world.

It pops up in places you’d never expect.

I wrote a story last week about how hundreds of Catholic priests and bishops in German and Dutch speaking countries are holding public church services this month to bless gay unions. They’re calling it the “Love Wins” campaign, promoting it as #liebegewinnt on social media.

Jan Korditschke, a Catholic priest in Berlin who will be blessing gay couples in his church, told the Associated Press why “Love Wins” is so important to him:

I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin. I want to celebrate the love of homosexuals with these blessings because the love of homosexuals is something good. The homophobia of my church makes me angry and I am ashamed of it.

The “Love Wins” message resonates powerfully

LGBTQ people in Germany are celebrating this week with much of the German population. Rainbow flags are waving on church grounds, and news sources are filled with positive stories about loving same-sex couples.

When I tweeted my story, I met with an (expected) mixture of skepticism and joy from English-speaking LGBTQ people. I never expected my tweet to attract advertisements for conversion therapy, but that’s what happened. Two Catholic priests in Bavaria responded to promote a Catholic Church network that offers to help people “struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Garry from Northern Ireland would recognize that language

He told RTÉ Radio 1 that program leaders promised him “there was good hope that I could turn to live a heterosexual life, and they said that, yes, I could live quite happily without same-sex attraction.”

I was surprised to see the tweets in response to my story, because while I know the Catholic Church in the US is increasingly embracing conversion therapy despite historically opposing it, I did not know the practice was on the rise in Germany. My surprise led me to more digging that revealed the increasing extent of the problem in France, where it is more an Evangelical than Catholic phenomenon.

But this isn’t conversion therapy!

Here’s the problem. Programs like the one Garry attended — and like many networks in the US, France, and Germany — claim they don’t actually offer conversion therapy. They carefully avoid explicit promises to end same-sex attraction while implying strongly that they can deliver that result.

When the Massachusetts Catholic Conference recently opposed a state ban on conversion therapy for minors, they illustrated the problem clearly with their objection:

If a minor is struggling with unwanted same sex attraction or gender identity, this law would prevent a licensed professional from counseling the minor towards a resolution to those unwanted urges. A counselor would hesitate to provide such therapy for fear of losing his or her license to practice. These professionals, with years of education and experience dealing with mental health issues, would be removed from the process of helping a young client struggling with these highly personal issues.

“A resolution to those unwanted urges” obviously implies changing sexual attraction. No reasonable observer could understand it any other way. That phrase happens to be the exact language groups like Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries employ as they partner with Catholic dioceses all over the US to offer conversion therapy they claim isn’t actually conversion therapy. It’s the exact language used by the Church conversion therapy network in Germany that advertised under my tweet.

Resolving unwanted same-sex attraction is conversion therapy

Many people have an inaccurate idea of what conversion therapy is. Decades ago, licensed psychiatrists and psychologists promised to turn gay people straight. They sometimes used harmful methods like shock and chemical aversion therapy. They relied heavily on talk therapy as well, but religion was seldom part of the mix.

Those medical practices all but died out by the 1980s in the US (and much of the rest of the world) without the need for laws. The mental health profession regulated itself, motivated by data that convinced them trying to change sexual attraction doesn’t work and causes serious mental health problems.

Psychologists and psychiatrists run afoul of their professional associations today if they offer conversion therapy, risking loss of board certifications and licenses.

Today, religious groups offer to “resolve unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Garry’s experience is typical of today’s conversion therapy. It’s almost always delivered by networks of unlicensed Christian counselors who combine religious practice like prayer with talk-therapy borrowed from the mental health world. Counselors promise they can “resolved unwanted same-sex attraction” by making it go away, by strengthening opposite-sex attraction, or by helping gay people feel content to live a life of celibacy.

As Garry attests, the results are as ineffective and toxic as when licensed professionals used to use them.

He says he became so depressed he had suicidal thoughts “almost on a daily basis” by the end of his unlicensed therapy. He started drinking heavily “every night just to get to sleep” and “to get rid of the thoughts” that were traumatizing him.

Conversion therapy keeps coming and going in waves

In the 1990s and early 2000s, a wave of “ex-gay” Christian conversion therapy swept through the Evangelical Christian world in the US, led by groups like Exodus International. These networks run by men who claimed they overcame their own same-sex attraction have collapsed as leaders admit their efforts proved both ineffective and toxic.

But even as that wave died out, new groups like Desert Stream are emerging to take their place. Garry’s traumatizing experience in Northern Ireland isn’t unusual, and that’s a big problem. Conservative religious organizations are heavily invested in the idea of homosexuality as pathological. They claim God doesn’t want people to be gay, and they believe strongly that they can help people “defeat sin” that is ruining their lives.

The trouble is, their programs are as ineffective and harmful as ever. However they try to finesse their language, they’re making promises they can’t deliver, harming people profoundly in ways mental health professionals call inevitable.

It’s possible that legislation will never be able to effectively deal with the problem. In the US and the UK, religious liberty principles make passing truly effective bans very difficult. It’s hearts and minds that have to change.

To those who believe unwanted same-sex attraction can be “resolved” —

Can we talk? When you tell LGBTQ people we’re suffering from an illness, when you offer to heal us, when you assert you can change how we experience sexual attraction, you’re causing tremendous harm.

What you’re offering isn’t new. Christians have been trying it for decades, and the numbers show nothing but trauma and mental health crises in result. Large networks of sincere believers have closed down after decades of operation because they saw the harm they were causing.

Christians all over the world have acknowledged they lack the ability to discern God’s will in a practice that has caused so much trauma and spiritual alienation.

Whatever your beliefs are about homosexuality, can you join that part of the Christian world that leaves God’s judgment to God and decisions about sexuality to personal conscience?

Garry was lucky. He lived to find joy and tell his story. The real tragedy here is all the people who didn’t. Can we agree to end this?

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

This piece was originally published at Prism & Pen, ‘Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling.’ Republished by permission.

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OAN’s anti-LGBTQ hate supported by cable & streaming services

OAN reportedly relies on subscriber fees, also known as carriage fees, rather than advertising as a prime revenue source

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Graphic via Media Matters for America

By Beatrice Mount & Alex Paterson | WASHINGTON – The right wing conspiracy theory One America News channel regularly uses extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, combating what it has called “militant LGBTQ recruitment” strategies.

OAN’s baseless fearmongering about Drag Queen Story Hour, Demi Lovato’s gender identity, and transgender athletes, however, is being financially supported by cable companies and streaming services that claim to be celebrating LGBTQ people and Pride month.

Rather than relying on “advertising as a prime revenue source,” OAN reportedly relies on subscriber fees, also known as carriage fees, as its primary funding source. Verizon and DirecTV (and its parent company, AT&T) pay OAN subscriber fees in exchange for the network being available to their customers, whose subscription costs pay for OAN. While it’s difficult to quantify exactly how much revenue these cable contracts generate, Bloomberg previously reported that OAN “gets paid about 15 cents per subscriber by the companies.” 

OAN also generates revenue through subscriber fees via its streaming app, which charges its subscribers $4.99 per month and is available to download on RokuAmazon FireGoogle Play, and Apple TV. In exchange for hosting OAN in their channel libraries, these companies reportedly take a percentage of that subscription fee. For example, according to Yahoo Finance and The Motley Fool, Roku takes 20% of subscription fees, and Apple TV takes 30% during the first year and 15% in subsequent years. 

These companies have all celebrated Pride month through statements and social media support, including VerizonAmazonGoogleAppleRoku, and DirecTv and its parent company AT&T. However, these companies also enable OAN to maintain a steady income, even though the network is in direct opposition to their corporate commitments to the LGBTQ community.

What’s more, OAN’s hateful rhetoric adds fuel to the rising attacks on LGBTQ people, particularly trans people: Anti-trans violence in the U.S. has reached record high levelshate crimes targeting LGBTQ people are on the rise, and state legislatures have proposed over 100 bills to restrict trans rights so far in 2021 alone. 

OAN hosts and guests regularly spread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and misinformation, particularly targeting trans people

In the days leading up and following the first day of Pride Month in June, some of OAN’s most prominent hosts — Kara McKinney, Stephanie Hamill, and Dan Ball — and their guests have regularly used the platform to fearmonger about LGBTQ people, including claiming that Pride “is a really sad indicator of just how far the cultural rot has gone.” Here are some of the worst examples:

Tipping Point with Kara McKinney

  • On May 20, McKinney suggested that “militant LGBTQ recruitment” has caused more young people to identify as LGBTQ. She also claimed PBS programming that featured Drag Queen Story Hour was “radical LGBTQ propaganda” and a ”mockery and caricature of true womanhood, basically the gender equivalent of blackface or cultural appropriation.”
  • Later in that same segment, McKinney was joined by RedState’s Brandon Morse, who claimed that PBS is “introducing what is actually a mental illness” to kids through covering Drag Queen Story Hour in order “to make good little soldiers for the hard-left, progressive agenda,” comparing it to “the sexual abuse of our children.” He also said that being trans is “a trend, and when this trend wears off the people who actually submitted these kids, pressured them — all the celebrities who signed up for it and pushed it on them, the corporations who signed on and pushed it on them — none of these people are going to look good in the long run, and I can’t wait for that day to come.”
  • On May 24, McKinney asserted that people who affirm trans youth are “leading young people, especially those suffering from mental illness and who are typically being raised in unstable households, into a life of gender confusion.” 
  • In that same edition of Tipping Point, Morse said that being trans is a “trend” and compared it to “the emo craze, the scene kids, you know, all these people dressing in weird ways to try to stand out.” He also claimed that as “abortions are becoming harder and harder to get for Planned Parenthood to perform, they’re moving toward … gender transition treatments” and pushing trans youth “into this weird LGBT-centric agenda that forces them to do something that they can’t take back years later.”
  • On June 1, McKinney commemorated Pride month by proclaiming, “We of course pray for those suffering with same-sex attraction,” and she equated being LGBTQ to a “sin” and a “vice.” She also lamented that “for being a country founded on Judeo-Christian principles, the fact that we dedicate an entire month to one of the seven deadly sins, which is pride, the cause in many ways of the fall itself, is a really sad indicator of just how far the cultural rot has gone.” 
  • Later in that same episode, far-right pastor Jesse Lee Peterson said people should celebrate “white history month” instead of “perverted” LGBTQ Pride. He also asserted that “Christians must stand up and fight against evil” and questioned, “What’s happy about being perverted?”

In Focus with Stephanie Hamill

  • On May 20, one day after singer Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary and announced they will now use gender-neutral “they/them” pronouns, Hamill suggested they were “desperately trying to stay relevant.” Turning Point USA’s Alex Clark claimed that “the ultimate magic eraser for bad PR is to change your sexual orientation or your gender identity” and accused Lovato of being “severely mentally ill.” (Hamill and her guest also repeatedly misgendered Lovato the following day.)
  • During a May 28 appearance on In Focus, Terry Schilling, the executive director of anti-LGBTQ group the American Principles Projectcalled for a “ban” on best practice health care for trans youth and claimed such care is “absolutely insane” and “all meant to destroy us as human beings.”
  • Later in that segment, during a rant about Kellogg’s Pride-themed cereal, Hamill said that “kids are getting bombarded with liberal propaganda,” and Schilling questioned if LGBTQ advocates “didn’t have the billions of dollars a year that they spend in this movement, what percentage of Americans would identify as LGBT or have some type of confusion about their gender? My guess is that it won’t be that many.”
  • In a June 1 segment with the right-wing Libertas Institute’s Emma Phillips, Hamill complained that Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues is “pushing the drag culture so hard on kids” and claimed that “we see this kind of indoctrination going on in schools, the anti-American agenda, too.” Phillips said that “parents have been posting on social media, ‘My child just learned that Jesus is nonbinary,’ and it’s like this laundry list of insane things that kids are being exposed to.”
  • On June 2, in an apparent violation of a court-issued gag order, Jeff Younger, a father in a high-profile Texas child custody dispute, joined Hamill to spread anti-trans rhetoric about his trans child’s “abnormal gender expression.”

Real America with Dan Ball

  • On June 8, while defending a Loudoun County, Virginia, public school teacher who refused to refer to trans students by their correct name and pronouns, Ball claimed that affirming trans youth is participating in “pronoun garbage.”
  • Ball has also repeatedly denigrated prominent trans people. He has misgendered and deadnamed U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. Ball also ridiculed Caitlyn Jenner, saying she was “dick-tator-less,” while his guests, far-right commentators the Hodgetwins, said being trans is “just a wardrobe” and a “bizarre lifestyle.”

Beatrice Mount is a media analyst and researcher for Media Matters for America. She’s a George Washington University Graduate with a degree in gender studies and political science.

Alex Paterson is a researcher for the LGBTQ program at Media Matters, where he has worked since 2019. Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Montana State University and has a background in LGBTQ advocacy, including previous work at the National LGBTQ Task Force and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The preceding commentary and analysis was published by Media Matters and is republished by permission.

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Pride at Work, U.S. Dept. of Labor recommits to inclusive workplaces

Pride Month is for LGBTQ+ people to be proud & visible in a world that tells us not to be; recommitting to inclusive workplaces

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U.S. Department pf Labor, Frances Perkins Building, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

By B.A. Schaaff | WASHINGTON – Pride Month is a chance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people to be proud and visible in a world that tells us not to be. Pride Month is a chance to celebrate and honor the work of LGBTQ+ people as we fight every day for equity and inclusion in society, in the law and in our workplaces. 

Thanks to the tireless work of advocates, we’ve had many recent encouraging wins at the national level:

  • Last June, in Bostock vs. Clayton County,the Supreme Court affirmed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • In January, President Biden issued an Executive Order 13988, Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, and  another executive order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which includes LGBTQ+ persons. He also rescinded a 2020 executive order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping that had a chilling effect on diversity and inclusion training programs among federal agencies and contractors.
  • The Biden-Harris administration has stated strong support for the Equality Act, which would amend existing federal civil rights laws to expressly include non-discrimination protection on the basis of sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), providing security and equality to LGBTQ+ people in accessing housing, employment, education, public accommodations, health care and other federally funded services, credit and more.
  • In March, President Biden became the first U.S. president to recognize Transgender Day of Visibility.

In the past year, anti-racism protests have sparked important conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion. The Department of Labor has recommitted to being an inclusive workplace, and continues to offer trainings related to sexual orientation and gender identity, including those related to the use of gender-inclusive language and pronouns. I’ve been proud to provide these trainings and support those efforts as a vice president of Pride at DOL, an affinity group for the department’s LGBTQ+ employees and contractors and our allies.

As part of the department’s efforts to implement the sexual orientation and gender identity executive order, our Civil Rights Center – a member of the Title VI/Title IX Interagency Working Group led by the Department of Justice – will serve on the Title IX and Executive Order 13988 Committee. This committee will serve to provide opportunities for interagency collaboration to advance EO 13988’s goal of protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, ensuring the Bostock decision is applied to Title IX and other relevant statutes, and making federal agencies welcoming to LGBTQ+ people.

The department is also working to reverse the impact of the prior administration’s executive order on diversity training. Our Office of Federal Contract and Compliance Programs is examining promising practices for diversity training as one component of broader efforts to eliminate bias from employment practices. In addition, the department is conducting an equity review to better understand how well our policies and programs are reaching historically underserved populations, and launched a related data challenge.

But there is still more work to do, and our pride can come at a price. Being visible sometimes means being exposed to harassment, discrimination, and violence. This is especially true for transgender people, particularly those who are women and people of color. Equity and inclusion require creating an environment — through language, policies and practices — that not only tolerates but recognizes and affirms people’s identities and relationships. Only with this can employers create a sense of belonging and value in their organization.

So as we celebrate Pride Month this year and every year, let’s recognize all the work that has been done and that is necessary to keep pushing forward.

B.A. Schaaff (they/he) is an attorney in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor and is vice president of Pride at DOL.

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Pulse shows that out of tragedy, there can be triumph

On June 12th, 2016, Pulse became the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history- out of tragedy, there can be triumph.

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The Pulse nightclub ( Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Jason Lindsay | WASHINGTON – It’s been 5 years since 49 people were killed and 53 others were injured when a man armed with an assault rifle, large capacity magazines, and a heart full of hate attacked the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On June 12th, 2016, Pulse became the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

It’s been 5 years since the families and friends of those taken that night have heard their laughs, seen their smiles, or held their hands. It’s been 5 years that the survivors have had to relive their trauma of that fateful night. Saturday marks 5 years since this deadly attack and it is a time we can reflect on the lives lost, those injured, the progress made since the attack, and what we all can do to fight for commonsense gun reform to make our country a safer place.

This tragedy struck at the heart of the LGBTQ community, both in Orlando and around our country, happening right in the middle of Pride month. While this is a somber anniversary that we must honor and remember the tragedy, it is also a time to reflect on what our community has accomplished as a result of this horrific event. While we grieve for those we lost, today there is hope. Out of the tragedy, a movement was born in the LGBTQ community to fight for gun reform, led by groups such as the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, which was established within days of the shooting. It includes Pulse survivors, family members of those killed in the attack, and key stakeholders. Working at the state and federal level, this new generation of activists are mobilizing and advocating for change to honor those lost with action. Through political action, advocacy, and recruiting new activists to the gun reform fight, the Pride Fund, other groups, and the LGBTQ community as a whole are honoring the legacy of the Pulse victims through meaningful action. The mission of Pride Fund is year round, working daily to enact gun reform, elect gun safety champions at the state and federal level, and advocating for change all over the country.

As we look back over the last five years there have been some significant accomplishments that reflect the hard work that has been done since the tragedy.

First, prior to Pulse, gun reform was not one of the top priorities among the LGBTQ community. Immediately following the shooting, our community began to have conversations about this critical topic and learn about the current efforts underway to change our gun laws. I created Pride Fund to End Gun Violence as an organization to spearhead our community’s efforts and harness the political power of the LGBTQ community to create change. Whereas gun reform was not a top priority before, public polling has shown in the years since that gun reform is now a top priority for LGBTQ voters. We are holding our political candidates to a certain standard and pushing them to make gun reform a priority. As a community, we are targeting some of the worst elected officials at the state and federal that are NRA backed cronies who stand in the way of legislative change. Pride Fund has been involved in over 125 political races around the country since our creation, and we have helped kick some of the worst Republicans out of office, replacing them with gun safety champions.

Second, we have witnessed many of those personally impacted by the tragedy, the survivors, the family members and friends of those killed, and key stakeholders like the owner of Pulse, become national activists in this cause. They have stepped beyond their own personal pain to take on leadership roles, speak about their experiences and the need for change in the media, in public forums, political rallies, and in meetings with elected officials. These individuals have refused to sit on the sidelines, they have wanted to honor those lost with action, and they have been doing a stellar job.

Third, Democrats have seized on the issue and made it one of their top priorities – in their campaigns and in elected office. The 2018 election was the first time gun reform was a key issue, not only on the campaign trail, but by voters. With Democrats winning the House of Representatives, bills started to finally pass to address gun reform, however the Senate stopped its movement. Now with Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and White House, we are in the greatest position to enact change. We just have to work hard in the Senate. For the first time in recent history, the CDC has received funding to study gun violence. A major win! With the election of President Biden, he is acting within his power to make our country safer. He has announced a series of initial actions and subsequent items have taken place. Most recently, the ATF has issued a proposed rule to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” and in his budget request for next year, he has included a $232 million dollar increase in funding for the DOJ and HHS to tackle gun violence.

Fourth, in a significant move by Congress in recent days, the House and Senate have voted to designate a Pulse National Memorial site.

Out of tragedy, there can be triumph, and the Pulse tragedy has certainly shown this to be true.

As we reflect on this 5th anniversary, take a moment to think about this loss of life, remember the victims, and think about all of the people around you that you want to protect from gun violence, then take action by getting involved with Pride Fund to End Gun Violence by visiting www.pridefund.org. 
To get involved, volunteer, or donate to help enact real gun reform, visit our website at PrideFund.org.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @Pride_Fund.

Jason Lindsay is founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, a PAC that supports state and federal candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms and champion LGBTQ equality. Lindsay is a seasoned political operative with 16 years of experience working in politics, government, and campaigns. He also served for 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003.

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