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Reparative Therapy Makes a Comeback as “Cure” for Homosexuality

Defying mainstream science, 'ex-gay' ministries claim that homosexuality is a chosen behavior that can be 'cured.'

In the not-so-distant past, gays and lesbians were routinely subjected to "reparative therapy" that included barbarous "aversion techniques" designed to "cure" them of homosexuality. Gay men were shown pictures of naked men and then administered electric shocks through electrodes attached to their testicles, or made to ingest drugs that made them vomit.

Not surprisingly, these brutal, "Clockwork Orange"-like methods proved to be totally ineffective — yielding not one credibly documented case of a "cured" homosexual — and had been discarded by all but lunatic fringe psychotherapists by the late 1970s.

But even now, more than 30 years after American Psychiatric Association deleted homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders, religious-right "ex-gay" ministries across the country propagate the myth that homosexuality is a curable disease.

The largest of these, San Rafael, Calif.-based Exodus International, is an umbrella group, with close ties to Focus on the Family. The group refers adult gays and lesbians, as well as teenagers whose parents are pushing them into counseling, to "ex-gay" ministries throughout the United States and Europe that have names like Straight Path Ministries, Breaking Free, and Straight Ahead.

Exodus' self-stated mission is, "Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." In practical terms, that translates to support groups, pastoral counseling, intense Bible study, arranged "dates" with members of the opposite sex, and the occasional use of ammonia inhalers in conjunction with gay and lesbian porn.

The claims of ex-gay ministries that homosexuality can be deprogrammed are supported in propaganda disseminated by Exodus and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality with the same brand of discredited pseudo-science that in recent decades has been cited as proof that homosexuals are more prone to be child molesters than heterosexuals and, more recently, that adopted children are worse off with gay or lesbian parents than with a heterosexual couple.

"There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of 'reparative conversion therapy' as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation," the American Psychiatric Association has officially stated.

"Clinical experience suggests that any person who seeks conversion therapy may be doing so because of social bias that has resulted in internalized homophobia, and that gay men and lesbians who have accepted their sexual orientation are better adjusted than those who have not done so."

Perhaps the most famous case study in the failure of reparative therapy is that of two founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, who helped start Exodus in 1976 and worked to "convert" gay people for three years, until they fell in love and left Exodus in 1979. In 1982, they held a marriage ceremony and lived together until Cooper died nine years later.

"The desires never go away," Bussee said. "After dealing with hundreds of people, I have not met one who went from gay to straight. Even if you manage to alter someone's sexual behavior, you cannot change their true sexual orientation."