Good Faith Media released a series of interviews this week with survivors of conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is the discredited practice of seeking to “convert” LGBTQ+ individuals to the sexual orientation or gender identity/expression traditionally associated with their sex assigned at birth.
The release of the interviews coincides with a recent Netflix documentary, Pray Away, detailing accounts from survivors of conversion therapy. One of those individuals is Julie Rogers, who recently released her book, Outlove.
According to a report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, over 700,000 individuals have been subjected to some form of conversion therapy. Out of those 700,000 individuals, 81% received conversion therapy from a religious organization.
Senior author of the report Ilan H. Meyer wrote: “Rather than being therapy, so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a minority stressor that reinforces stigma and conveys that being LGB is abnormal, sinful, and should be rejected. We found that people who undergo conversion therapy are at increased risk of suicide ideation and attempts. This is a devastating outcome that goes counter to the purpose of therapy.”
Findings from survivors responding in the report signaled alarming trends: they have 92% greater odds of lifetime suicidal ideation, 75% greater odds of planning a suicide attempt and 88% greater odds of attempting suicide resulting in no or minor injury.
After listening to survivor stories, as well as sitting down with clergy, policy experts and licensed therapists, I am convinced any form of conversion therapy targeting LGBTQ+ persons is dangerously harmful.
My goal for this project was not to debate what the Bible says – or does not say – about the inclusion, affirmation and equality of LGBTQ+ persons.
From my perspective, LGBTQ+ persons deserve to be included, affirmed and provided the same rights as any other citizen and person of faith, but even those who disagree with my view should be opposed to the practice of conversion therapy because of the profound harm it causes.
This project dealt specifically with the results conversion therapy had upon participants, as practiced by faith-based organizations and churches. Over the course of our research and interviews, the following information emerged.
First, most of the conversion therapy programs we heard about were not conducted by a licensed professional therapist. Many were run by clergy without proper credentials or credible training in therapy.
Second, current programs no longer use the term “conversion therapy” in their promotional materials. In many cases, they claim people suffer from “same-sex attraction,” describing it as a behavioral choice that can be overcome.
Third, there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest conversion therapy does not work. In fact, some programs have stopped promising a “‘change” in one’s sexual orientation altogether. Instead, they provide “coping” skills in order not to act on those natural urges.
Fourth, “therapy” is loosely defined and practiced.
From the multiple accounts across different programs, one of the main emphases within the “therapy” is the confessional component. Participants were asked to describe in detail their sexual thoughts and actions during a group forum while leaders – many admitting to “same-sex attraction” – listened on.
Fifth, conversion therapy preys on victims of trauma.
One of the main focuses in conversion therapy relies on past trauma as a cause for “same-sex attraction.” With no clinical evidence to support this theory, victims of conversion therapy are led to believe they can overcome their temptation by “inviting” Jesus into that trauma. Based on this explanation of the process, conversion therapy is using a traumatic practice to treat trauma.
Sixth, most of our interviewees acknowledge not all parts of the experiences were negative.
Dealing with past trauma was therapeutic in some cases, but to tie it directly to same-sex attraction was egregious. Also, having a group of people to talk with about their difficulties and realities as part of the LGBTQ+ community was nice. If only it could have been harnessed more positively.
Seventh, Good Faith Media realizes this is only part of the LGBTQ+ experience.
We have a lot of work to do, as many more stories need to emerge from our transgender and non-binary friends. When anyone feels dehumanized because of their natural existence, people of faith need to stand beside them to recognize their full humanity.
Again, this project was not intended to provide a biblical argument for the full inclusion, affirmation and equality of LGBTQ+ individuals. Rather, this project focused on the realities behind the practice of conversion therapy.
The reality is this: conversion therapy is a dangerous practice causing great harm to many of God’s children.
In the end, this project was extremely moving for me.
While we attempted to connect with supporters of conversion therapy, our inquires were either ignored, or time for a meeting could not be found despite GFM offering multiple opportunities to do so. However, meeting with the survivors brought a myriad of emotions, including anger, sadness and inspiration.
Our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters deserve better from the church. They are beautiful and unique creatures of God made perfect in design.
As their fellow human being, I am committed to making certain they are treated respectfully and with kindness from anyone else claiming the name of Christian.
CEO of Good Faith Media.