10/11/2011

SPLC and Truth Wins Out Launch Campaign Targeting Destructive ‘Conversion’ Therapy

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Truth Wins Out (TWO) launched a national campaign today targeting conversion therapy, a thriving practice that claims to “convert” people from homosexuality to heterosexuality. The groups made the announcement in coordination with today’s National Coming Out Day.

The campaign will begin with a series of community meetings in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for survivors of the practice, which has been discredited or highly criticized by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. Survivors are also invited to share their own stories. The campaign also will encourage community advocates and elected leaders to scrutinize local conversion therapy programs.

"Conversion therapy programs have devastated all too many lives and families by attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation,” said Christine Sun, deputy legal director, who leads the SPLC’s LGBT rights project. “This practice is based on nothing more than junk science and must stop.”

Wayne Besen, founder and executive director of Truth Wins Out, added, “There’s a serious concern that the damage inflicted by conversion therapy can reach far beyond the individual receiving the ‘therapy’ and into communities across the country.”

Central to conversion therapy – sometimes known as reparative or “sexual reorientation” therapy – is the belief that being gay is a mental disorder – a position rejected by the American Psychiatric Association nearly four decades ago. People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal ideation.

Despite these findings, the conversion therapy movement continues to push its message and is increasingly targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, often recommending that parents commit their children to treatment against the child’s wishes.

The American Medical Association officially “opposes the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.”

In 2006, the American Psychological Association declared: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

Yet the message that LGBT people can and should change their sexual orientation is echoed throughout the literature promoting conversion therapy:

  • “Anyone who experiences SSA [same-sex attraction] is not ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ or ‘transgender.’ They are all latent heterosexuals!”1
  • “Self-deception about gender is at the heart of the homosexual condition. A child who imagines that he or she can be the opposite sex – or be both sexes – is holding on to a fantasy solution to his or her confusion. This is a revolt against reality and a rebellion against the limits built into our created human natures.”2

Absurd theories and treatments also are promoted within the conversion therapy movement:

  • “The penis is the essential symbol of masculinity – the unmistakable difference between male and female. This undeniable anatomical difference should be emphasized to the boy in therapy.”3
  • “The family model that produces a homosexual son has, in our view, typically failed to validate the boy’s masculine individuation during the formative phase of gender identification.”4

There are other troubling aspects of this practice. The American Psychological Association expressed concern in 2006 that the positions espoused by some of the leading advocates of conversion therapy, such as the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), “create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

The potential for conversion therapy to foster an anti-LGBT atmosphere is a concern for the SPLC, which analyzed 14 years of federal hate crime data and found that LGBT people are far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States. The SPLC also has worked to combat anti-gay bullying in schools.


1 Richard Cohen, Straight Talk About Homosexuality: The Other Side of Tolerance, 2010, p. 112.
2 Joseph Nicolosi and Linda Ames Nicolosi, A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, 2002, p. 22.
Ibid., p. 24.
4 Joseph J. Nicolosi, Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy,  2009, p. 39.