Around the world there are people who claim to be able to ‘fix’ homosexuality by making gay people straight. In the West curing homosexuality is most commonly carried out by private therapists and churches and takes the position that same sex attraction is immoral and sinful. With the growth of the Evangelical church in the UK (especially in London) and the US in recent years there is increasing concern about the methods and consequences of those who claim to be able to cure homosexuality.
Just last year four gay men sued a Jersey City group for fraud over its programme which made them strip naked and hit effigies of their mothers with baseball bats and similarly questionable approaches have been used in programmes across the States (see here) . A former US Pentecostal interviewed in the Guardian criticsed his former Church for using counserllors., amongst other techniques, to ‘enable’ the faithful overcome their homosexual feelings. He argued that such approaches did not work and left him feeling bad about himself and the feelings he was having. He also highlighted a darker side of those carrying out gay ‘conversion’ therapies ‘arguing that they give moral authority to bullies’, implying that often the programmes are carried about by those with dubious motives and often with the awareness that they do not achieve so-called conversion. For reasons such as these this week the US Governer of the state of New Jersey, Chris Christie, signed a bill to bar therapists who claim to be able to cure teenagers’ sexuality and this follows recent legislation passed recently in California (see here) . After considering evidence from the American Psychological Association (APA) he decided that there were ‘critical health risks’ for minors involved in such programmes.
The key problem with gay conversion is that it can have enduring damaging effects on the lives of those that have taken part. They often cause confusion, shame and sometimes even depression or suicidal feelings. They create a belief in the gay participant that their behaviour is wrong. Add this to the fact that feelings of same sex attraction rarely, if ever, disappear after doing such programmes can leave the individual with psychological issues related to low self-esteem and guilt. For these reasons gay conversion therapy is widely criticised and controversial by health professionals and gay rights groups, amongst others. Thankfully, though there are now signs of change even within the groups that have carried out conversion programmes. There is recognition amongst some that they are unlikely to work and can cause damage to those taking part. For example, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, the global gay cure church, who recently shot to fame after appearing on an Oprah programme about ‘pray away the gay’ approaches, has admitted that 99.9% people cannot be cured through gay conversion programmes and recently publically apologised for the harm that these programmes have caused (also see here).
Thankfully gay conversion programmes are much less prevalent in the UK than in the States (although not non-existent, see recent Telegraph article), but the issues related to shame and guilt over ones sexual orientation are encountered frequently by those working in sexual health. These feelings might be related to family, cultural or religious background and can form a strong driver in sexual behaviour and risk taking. These are key factors that are explored in our counselling, mentoring and healthtrainer programmes, which work with gay and bisexual men in a non-judgemental way to focus on the reasons for increased sexual risk and put together appropriate, tailored approaches aimed at reducing risk taking. For more information see our website or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the GMI Partnership.