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Conversion Therapy Does Do Harm

Karl Wirth’s guest column [“A Different Perspective,” March 30] offers a “different perspective” on the visit to MIT of a representative of Desert Stream Ministries. This visit was sponsored by the United Christian Fellowship and the Black Christian Fellowship, and the goal of this visitor’s ministry is to transform gay and lesbian people into heterosexuals. Mr. Wirth set out to explain that this ministry is not hateful to gay and lesbian people but merely intended to offer hope to those gay and lesbian people who might, of their own free will, wish to change their sexual orientation. How could this possibly be hateful or harmful to those of us who are happy and gay?

Here’s how. Ask yourself: Why would people want to change their sexual orientation? Have you ever heard of a program to help heterosexual people change their sexual orientation? I certainly haven’t. If heterosexual people are presumed to be happy with their orientation, why would anyone be unhappy with a same-sex orientation? However Mr. Wirth or his guest might answer that question, I suspect the gist would be that gay and lesbian people are somehow inferior. That’s an insult to me, and it’s much more harmful to anyone who is less confident than I am.

Here’s my answer: We live in a world where gay and lesbian people are subject to hatred and violence for no reason other than whom they love, and so they are afraid. This goes beyond insult, however. If, like me and every organization of mental health professionals, you believe that a same-sex orientation is part of the range of normal, healthy human variation, then it is inescapable that any attempt to change this must be unhealthy and injurious. It would seem that Desert Stream Ministries’ business is to induce delusions in its client-victims. I think it’s wrong to stand by silently and let them continue to harm people. If we lived in a world where people were truly free, where, for example, every gay or lesbian youth could discover their sexual orientation in an atmosphere of safety, love and acceptance, I would not argue with Wirth or his guest.

I would still believe that anyone in such conversion “therapy” is harming him or herself, but if he or she makes that foolish decision freely, it’s none of my business. But we do not live in that world. We live in a world where the cruelest playground taunt is “faggot,” a world in which high ranking politicians call same-sex orientation a disease, a world in which a lesbian mother can lose custody of her child to a convicted murderer. In this real world, Desert Stream Ministries is not a gentle healer or a harmless diversion. It is an insult to me and an assault on its victims.

John F. Olson
Postdoctoral fellow