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The Dangers of Conversion Therapy

Two Religious Groups at MIT Promote Unsound ‘Therapy’ for Homosexuality during IAP

Guest Column
Damon W. Suden

This Independent Activities Period, the MIT Black Christian Fellowship and the United Christian Fellowship invited Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and friends at MIT (GaMIT) to its seminar on the Bible & Sex entitled “You Are Not Alone: Stories of Past Hurt and Healing.” This seminar included testimonials of people healing from rape, incest, and “the homosexual lifestyle”. This column is my way of healing from the MIT Black Christian Fellowship’s and the United Christian Fellowship’s ignorance, offensiveness, and outright lunacy.

This seminar follows on the heels of a recent national “ex-gay” movement. Last summer several religious right-wing groups, including Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition, began placing ads in national newspapers touting “hope for healing” and “truth in love” for those of us “living a homosexual lifestyle.” We were told we could change through prayer and belief in Jesus Christ. This distorted Christian theology is not just crazy but also scientifically unsound.

“Conversion” groups promise the impossible. Years are spent in prayer, fasting, in isolation, and, in extreme cases, undergoing torturous procedures such as electro-shock therapy. Sham marriages, fake relationships, and inner pain are the only results. Desert Stream Ministries, the group represented at the IAP seminar, says, in its booklet on “Ministering the Life of Jesus to the Sexually and Relationally Broken,” that “the homosexual condition is a result of the many hurts... that the child has suffered. He or she may not know how dismally these attempts [homosexual behavior] will fail to impart the sense of completion and connectedness that is perhaps the most essential longing of the human soul.”

Had Desert Stream Ministries bothered to involve itself in the community it’s trying to change, it would have seen that homosexuals, like heterosexuals, are fully capable of establishing long-lasting and fulfilling relationships. In fact, the prayer/therapy groups which come from Desert Stream do not even have licensed psychologists present and are not alternatives to the “conversion” discussed. Their approach is worth noting because, the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), and every other major scientific and medical group has come out in opposition to so-called “reparative” and “conversion” therapies.

The APA’s statement stressed that “reparative therapy” is not benign and that it often has deleterious effects. According to the statement, “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients... were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed... the APA opposes any treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy which is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based on a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual orientation.”

Janet Folger, one of the lead organizers of the summer ad campaign, contradicted her denial that the campaign was politically motivated. She told the New York Times that she wanted to “strike at the assumption that homosexuality is an immutable trait and that gay people therefore don’t need protection under anti-discrimination laws.” This purported “hate the sin and not the sinner” approach is simply the latest stratagem of the far right in its attack on gays and lesbians, and it has, unfortunately, found its way to MIT.

These “ex-gay” groups prey on those of us who haven’t come to understand that being gay does not have to mean living in a place of hurt and loneliness. Gay men and lesbians live full, complete, and healthy lives. Justin Chin, a reporter for The Progressive who went undercover into an “ex-gay conversion” program sums up his experience: “Ultimately, the difference between gays and ex-gays is like the difference between cheese and cheddar. The ex-gays try to drown their homosexuality in Bible verses, marriage, family, and their own new subcultural niche, but their homosexuality remains... Everything in their lives revolves around homosexuality and avoiding it... It’s disturbing to realize that these groups know that the best they can do is suppress a person’s sexual orientation, and yet they hold out an entire industry catered to ‘curing’ homosexuality.”

If someone claims to have been cured of their homosexuality, I wish them luck in keeping up the charade. I don’t purport to tell people how to lead their lives. But the homophobic rhetoric which is being spewed by conservative religious organizations is undeniably contributing to the deeply rooted hatred of and violence towards homosexuals. Recent FBI statistics show that anti-gay violence is up nationwide, while violent crimes in general have gone down. And a Massachusetts study has shown that gay and lesbian youth are three times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. The recent murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and the suicide of MIT freshman Michael P. Manley ’02 are tragic reminders of how real these statistics can be.

Love has nothing to do with this campaign, nationally or at MIT. Testimonials of people who have experienced “conversion therapy” and escaped the religious brain-washing attempts of the “conversion” cults can be found at http://www.hrc.org/ray along with other information revealing “ex-gay” groups for the fraudulent organizations they are. There are many Christian churches and other religious groups which welcome gay and lesbian people. I can only hope that those who need organized religious groups in their lives can find one which does not demonize, condemn, or attempt to change them.

And I can only hope that the Black Christian Fellowship and the United Christian Fellowship come to realize the very real damage that can be done to people who take part in “conversion” processes and the very real part that they are taking in promoting these bogus and dangerous programs.

Damon W. Suden ’99 is a senior majoring in Mathematics and was a former Outreach Coordinator for GaMIT.