Parents from South Jersey have filed a lawsuit against Governor Chris Christie, who signed a law banning so-called “reparative therapy” — meant to turn gay people straight — for minors in August. The complaint alleges that the couple’s 15-year-old son “frequently thought of killing himself because he did not like himself.” It also says that, “He experienced feelings of despair because he believed that he would never be good enough if he remained a boy.” His parents claim that not being allowed to ship their son off to ex-gay therapy violates their right to free speech.
Right. So you want to put a vulnerable kid — who already has suicidal thoughts — into a program that has been shown to increase suicide risk in LGBT folks. Because that makes you responsible parents.
Self-loathing in gay people, particularly gay kids (or trans kids — this teen’s gender identity diagnosis leaves us to wonder) is always a chicken-or-egg question: Is there something inherent in a not-straight-or-cis orientation or gender identity that is troubling, or is the negative self-image attributable to negative representations of queer folks in society and culture?
Um, the evidence is pretty clear for the latter. Most gay people who harbor a deep-seated self-loathing are bombarded with negative messages from families or communities. In contrast, gay kids who are supported by parents and schools seem to be doing remarkably well.
But this also isn’t to say that people who do struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity don’t need therapy. In fact, they probably could very much benefit from it. But that’s real therapy — not the snake oil cure pedaled by ex-gay therapists. In fact, the notion that someone’s sexual orientation can change has been rebuffed by the American Psychological Association and other mainstream organizations.
Ex-gay programs have imploded in the last couple of years. Even the head of Exodus International, the most prominent organization offering therapy to escape the “gay lifestyle,” apologized last year. Alan Chambers posted a letter on his blog admitting that ex-gay therapy rarely works, and that he himself continued to experience same-sex attraction. He wrote:
Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.
The group’s webpage now redirects to WeSpeakLove.org.
And in 2012, the American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana wrote a touching account of his own adventures in ex-gay therapy. Trying to change and failing, over many years, drove him to the brink of suicide.
Nicolosi’s ideas did more than haunt me. The first two years of college, they were the basis for how I saw myself: a leper with no hope of a cure. I stayed in the closet but had sexual encounters with classmates nonetheless. I became increasingly depressed but didn’t go to mental-health counseling for fear that a well-meaning therapist would inform my parents that I was living the “gay lifestyle.”
I planned for what I would do if my parents decided to stop paying my tuition. I would stay in New Haven and get a job. I would apply for a scholarship from the Point Foundation, which gives financial aid to gay kids whose parents have disowned them. I would not go back to Arizona. I would not see an ex-gay therapist.
I spent hours in front of the window of my third-story room, wondering whether jumping would kill or merely paralyze me. I had a prescription for Ambien and considered taking the entire bottle and perching myself on the ledge until it kicked in—a sort of insurance.
And that's what's in store for this kid if his parents win. New Jersey is only the second state to legally ban gay conversion therapy, following California’s lead in 2012. That law was upheld by a federal appeals court this summer, but that doesn't seem to deterring these parents from pursuing their misguided right to their child's pursuit of 'happiness.'
This 15-year-old boy’s problem isn't his sexual orientation or gender identity, and if his parents showed him acceptance, maybe he’d see that. In our society, we tend to not allow parents to put children in abusive situations, and that’s what reparative therapy clearly is, emotionally if not physically. Once the kid turns 18, no problem — adults can subject themselves to whatever kind of torture they want. But the state has a responsibility, like New Jersey did, to step in for minors.