“Conversion” therapy’s deadly outcomes

by Rev. Irene Monroe

I wish Leelah was alive today. She would know how a petition on the White House website with 120,000 plus signatures calling for the enactment of “Leelah’s Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy” not only went viral across mainstream and social media internationally, but how the petition was also swiftly supported by Obama and his administration.

“Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out,” Obama’s statement read. “What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”

Leelah’s memory will haunt us as a society until there’s change. Her suicide note sparked a movement to end conversion therapy (also known as “reparative therapy”). These pseudo-therapies are motivated primarily by conservative religion-based homophobic and transphobic therapies and ministries that are hell-bent on the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people can and should be made straight.

“If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue…To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4….When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong, ” Leelah’s suicide note opened with.

In wanting to advance the civil rights cause of transgender people Leelah (whose birth name was Joshua Ryan Alcorn ) was a 17 year old trans female left the following instructions:

“I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups…. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s f***ed up” and fix it. Fix society. Please. Goodbye.”

Just seven years ago, the American Psychological Association put out an official position paper stating, “The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation.”

The negative health outcomes both emotional and psychological these “conversion” programs exact are untold and include depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of intimacy, loss of faith and spirituality, and the reinforcement of internalized homophobia and self-hatred, to name a few.

There are, however, still conservative groups, proselytizing ex-gay rhetoric as both their Christian and patriotic duty.

For example, “Pray the Gay Away?,” an episode of the television series “ Our America with Lisa Ling,” that aired on “OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network” in March 2011, Alan Chambers,( then president of the renown conversion therapy enterprise Exodus International) spoke about his sure-fire remedy for us LGBTQ “prodigal” children, and how his organization can help us reconcile our faith, mend our sinful lives, and finally walk away from our supposedly wrong-headed “lifestyle” choice. Chambers is a married man with two adopted children, and a purported ex-gay client himself.

But in 2013 in a public mea culpa about conversion therapies titled “ I Am Sorry” published on Exodus International website Chambers wrote:

“For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical….God is calling us to … welcome everyone, to love unhindered….Please know that I am deeply sorry….I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents…. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. “

For some of us in the LGBTQ community Chambers’ apology was more than a day late and a dollar short- it was suspect.

Chambers act of contrition was suspect not only because of huge cultural and legislative changes made in support of LGBTQ civil rights, but also because Chambers always knew from his own first hand experience of same-sex attraction that one’s gay sexual orientation is never a choice and can never be “cured.”

“Conversion” therapies are acts of rhetorical violence aimed squarely at LGBTQ people. They are also a tool used by right-wing religious organizations to raise money and advocate against LGBTQ civil rights. And with this money these organizations are able to produce politically and religiously Biased Agenda-Driven (aptly abbreviated as “A.D.”) science like “reparative therapies,” attempting to justify them by presenting LGBTQ people as genetically flawed— a charge eerily reminiscent of the scientific racism and sexism that once under girded treatment of blacks and women morally inferior due to supposed genetic flaws.

With more and more ex-gay ministries not only losing potential clients and political leverage, but also losing monies reparative therapies generate, there is a gradually shift from “curing” one’s LGBTQ sexual orientation to abstinence from it. In other words, the theological message that homosexuality is an abomination to God and is a sin remain intact, but more emphasis will be place on celibacy.
An emphasis on a discipleship to celibacy is equally as harmful and damaging as ex-gay ministries. This message suggests we’re incurable and should execute control over our ungodly desires.
However, when we miss the essential point that human life is varied, precious, and of equal worth, we ignore the unique gifts that each life brings to each other and to the world.
Ex- gay ministries like Exodus International, Restored Hope Network, and “Focus on the Family,” to just name a few should all fold because they don’t focus on families, but rather they blur the distinctiveness that makes us who we are. God created humanity as a tapestry of variety: diminishing that variety diminishes ourselves.
That’s what Leelah was telling us.

Rev. Irene Monroe View more

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

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