The SPLC warned today that a conference being held in the Atlanta area to promote so called “ex-gay” therapy lends an air of legitimacy to a harmful practice that has been discredited by scientific organizations.
Ex-gay therapy, also known as “conversion” or “reparative” therapy, is a practice that claims people can change their sexual orientation. It’s the subject of a conference being held this weekend in Villa Rica, Ga., by Exodus International, which describes itself as “the world’s largest ministry to individuals and families impacted by homosexuality.”
“This therapy devastates the lives of many who have endured it and can result in lasting psychological harm,” said SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe, who joined representatives of Truth Wins Out and other advocacy groups at a news conference in Atlanta . “It inaccurately assumes that LGBT people are broken and fraudulently claims to fix who they are. We want LGBT people and their allies to be aware of the disastrous effects this therapy can cause and encourage survivors to speak out against it.”
Despite the claims by Exodus International and other groups that specialize in “converting” people from gay to straight, the therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. In 2006, the American Psychological Association stated unequivocally: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
The APA has also expressed concern that the aggressive promotion of efforts to change sexual orientation “create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”
Many who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal ideation.
But the conversion therapy movement continues to push its message and is increasingly targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth across the country and in Georgia. Events such as Exodus International’s conference, one of the largest in the Southeast, can lead young LGBT people to believe they are broken and can be “cured” by this therapy.
Chaim Levin poses next to his SPLC poster. Chaim grew up in an orthodox Jewish community, and after grappling with being gay in his community, he approached an organization practicing conversion therapy. “I was made to believe that there was something wrong with me and I needed to change,” he said. "It left me feeling even more depressed since they made me believe I failed. I finally accepted that there is nothing wrong with me and I don’t need to change.”
One conversion therapy survivor, Chaim Levin, shared his experience during the news conference today. Levin grew up in an orthodox Jewish community. After grappling with being gay in his community, he approached an organization practicing conversion therapy, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), when he was 18 years old.
“I was made to believe that there was something wrong with me and I needed to change,” he said. “I was hopeless and was looking for a way to ‘cure’ being gay, but the therapy didn’t work. It left me feeling even more depressed since they made me believe I failed. I finally accepted that there is nothing wrong with me and I don’t need to change.”
The SPLC and its allies launched a campaign last fall in conjunction with National Coming Out Day to encourage conversion therapy survivors to share their own stories. Survivors can share their stories at: www.splcenter.org/conversion-therapy. The campaign also encourages community advocates and elected leaders to scrutinize local conversion therapy programs.