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Does Ex-Gay Therapy Work?


Does Ex-Gay Therapy Work?
© Geoff Manasse/Getty
Remember the late 90's film But I'm a Cheerleader about a young girl sent to an ex-gay camp by her parents who suspected she was a lesbian? I was somewhat in disbelief that camps that attempted to "repair" gay and lesbian people actually existed. My skepticism was mostly due to the comic and satirical nature of the film, but then came Latter Days, a film about a Mormon missionary who is coming to terms with his sexuality. After being outed and removed from the church for kissing a boy, his parents send him to an ex-gay institution. What followed was a graphic portrayal of the techniques used by these camps to reverse his homosexuality.

Ex-Gay Reparative Therapy Is No Fiction

The existence of ex-gay or "reparative therapy" ministries are beyond fictional tales, however. In reality, the ex-gay movement has been in existence since the 1970's, attempting to "cure" homosexuality through religion. These claims have been met with much resistance from gay advocacy groups and mental health organizations over the unsubstantiated claims that homosexuality can be cured through therapy and the potential harm that such therapies have on the mental health of young LGBT people, including increased instances of depression and suicide.

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The APA Says No To Ex-Gay Therapy

On Wednesday, August 5th, the American Psychological Association published a comprehensive report reputing the effectiveness of ex-gay (or reparative therapy) ministries. The governing body of the mental health organization examined 83 studies on sexual orientation dating back to 1960 and found no substantial evidence that homosexuality can be cured through therapy or any other means as many ex-gay ministries claim. The report urged mental health professionals not to advise clients that they can become straight through therapy or other treatments.

Teens and Young Adults In Ex-Gay Camps

Ex-gay facilities, also referred to as camps, continue to be filled with teens and young adults given to the care (a term used in irony) of reparative therapy organizations like Exodus International that promise parents and clients lives without homosexuality. Their promises of reversal therapy are based on what they claim as success stories or graduates that live in heterosexual situations, which are just that—situations—as no substantial proof that homosexuality can be cured has been found. Many claimed "repaired" clients live in heterosexual situations, but also in abstinence. "Fear, often in combination with financial dependence, continues to play a major role in the decisions of some young gay men to enter into ex-gay programs," EDGE Boston reporter Joseph Erbentraut writes.


History of Ex-gay (Or Reparative Therapy) Ministries

Ex-gay ministries started in the early 1970's with a group called Love in Action, under the principle that through prayer gay people could be "cured" of their same-gender feelings and converted to heterosexuality. Shortly after, the co-founder of Love in Action, Rev. Kent Philpott, wrote the landmark book The Third Sex?, which described the conversion process of six gay people to heterosexuality.

Attention surrounding The Third Sex? resulting in the first ex-gay conference, of which the largest ex-gay ministry, Exodus International was created. The ex-gay movement grew with the creation of several ex-gay organizations that all believe homosexuality can be repaired.

The ex-gay movement has been met with fierce challenges by gay rights organizations and mental health advisory boards like the American Psychological Association over unsubstantiated claims that homosexuality can actually be cured and the methodology used on teens and young adults.

Instead of reversing or "healing" sexuality, gay rights organizations argue that ex-gay ministries merely provide clients with techniques to suppress their feelings. Claims that reparative therapy is based more on rhetoric and homophobia than curing through religion was substantiated by a highly exposed scandal surrounding John Paulk from Exodus and Colin Cook from Homosexuals Anonymous. Both national ex-gay camp leaders were caught engaging in same-sex encounters after claiming they themselves had been cured.

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