Wouldn't you know it: on Wednesday I diaried about the "ex-gay" industry, whose latest gimmick was a "new, peer-reviewed study " - which, unsurprisingly, is not new, not peer-reviewed, and not a study. Within a day, the American Psychological Association released a report which thoroughly shredded every claim the "ex-gay" industry ever made. NARTH was trying to pre-empt them with their own version of "raising the terror alert" (to lavender, presumably)when their opponent's about to speak. Massive fail.
NARTH (National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality) was founded by the late Charles Socorides, a psychiatrist who fought bitterly to keep homosexuality officially defined as a mental disorder, and continued this crusade long after every reputable medical and psychological organization had left this view behind. When Socarides forced a re-vote, and once again the APA found that homosexuality was not a disorder, one GLBT publication went with the headline: THE EARTH IS ROUND.
They're the pseudo-scientific arm of the homophobia industry, while Exodus (an umbrella group for a variety of programs) is the religious arm. In the late 1980's, two of the Exodus founders, Michael Bussee and Gary "not the actor" Cooper, fell in love and renounced the movement they'd helped create. This has been a pattern in "ex-gay" organizations, so almost all of them are now run by straight people.
In the mid 1990's, "ex-gay" organizations reached their peak with an aggressive ad campaign featuring their alleged success stories. The face of this movement was John Paulk , who was chair of the board of Exodus, and head of the Homophobia departmetn (OK they don't call it that) at Focus on the Family. He was featured on the cover of Newsweek with his wife Anne (an "ex-lesbian") in 1998. Two years later, Paulk turned up in a gay bar in DC. One of the patrons called HRC activist Wayne Besen, and Paulk was still there when Besen arrived to photograph him 40 minutes later. After first claiming he'd just been looking for the bathroom (for 45+ minutes), Paulk admitted,
"I wanted off the treadmill and I thought I wanted to go back to a gay bar. Well, of course, because God loves me he is not going to let me go out on a leash too long and I was discovered in there."
Try not to think too much about that "leash" imagery.
Like all forms of snake oil, pray-away-the-gay programs (or in NARTH parlance, "reparative therapy" programs) have a superficial appeal. Coming out of the closet means dealing with discrimination, condemnation from some religious bodies, and maybe even rejection by your own family. GLBT people with conservative roots are vulnerable to the false promise that they can change if they just try hard enough. But the biggest consumers of "ex-gay" literature, conferences and workshops are parents. They come to ask if they did something wrong, and if they can change their GLBT children. NARTH and Exodus answer "yes" to both questions. In his book Anything But Straight (still the best book on this topic), Besen notes that when the "ex-gay" movement took off, GLBT people who'd been out for decades, and thought they were accepted by their families, suddenly started getting pamphlets and suggestions from their parents about so-called reparative therapy.
The "ex-gay" industry was a lucrative field for a while. It brought in money from desperate parents, GLBT people trained in self-loathing, and right-wingers who enjoyed the opportunity to attack GLBT rights while simultaneously claiming to "love the sinner." (Exodus, for instance, has been at the forefront of fighting hate crimes laws, falsely claiming they don't protect "ex-gays.") Any argument against GLBT rights is a much easier sell if packaged with the claim that GLBT peole could avoid discrimination by just choosing to become straight.
In the past few years, the "ex-gay" industry has suffered one setback after another. An explosion of GLBT rights laws, the 2003 Supreme court decision striking down sodomy laws, and the advent of same-sex marriage have created a very different political climate. GLBT people are all over the dial on TV, and the younger generation takes equality for granted. One of the leading "ex-gay" proponents, Richard Cohen, was kicked out of the American Counseling Association for ethics violation - and worse, he demonstrated his methods in this video , making the whole movement a laughingstock. (Sorry I'm too much of a computer doofus to embed video, but wath it - it's hysterical.) And did I mention Ted Haggard ? But there's a more basic reason why these programs are no longer selling well here.
They don't work.
In the early days of the industry, it was easy to make all kinds of promises. But anyone who's watched this movement over time can observe that "ex-gays" don't stay "ex" very long unless they're getting a paycheck from an anti-GLBT organization (and in John Paulk's case, not even then). The APA report gave a thorough look at studies that actaully meet scientific criteria, and saw what GLBT peole had been telling them all along.
The Chair of the APA’s Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, Judith M Glassgold, called for therapists to be realistic with with clients about the reality of their orientation, while still being respectful of clients' religious beliefs. I know that last part rankles for some; invariably somebody will respond that therapists should just tell them to give up their religion. But people can't just choose to change religious beliefs, any more than they can choose to change sexual orientation. (If you've suffered discrimination for bieng a nonbeliever, you can't just choose to become a believer in order to fix that.) A more realistic therapeutic approach is to emphasize the affirming side of their religion. For instance, with a conservative Christian client, a therapist might emphasize Christ's message of compassion and kindness, and the fact that he never mentioned homosexuality at all.
Keep coming out, keep supporting those who are struggling iwth coming out, and enjoy the fact that the APA has once again discovered that the Earth is round. And remember: Ted Haggard Is Completely Heterosexual!