The Dangerous Lie of Conversion ‘Ex-Gay Therapy’

"Reparative Therapy." Photo by Daniel Tobias. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Now that Trump is evidently our nation’s president elect, the fear of what that means for American rights is gripping the nation. It’s a valid fear, considering the anti-LGBTQ history of Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate. Pence once desired, back in 2000, for funding meant for organizations combating the HIV virus to be redirected to institutions that attempt to change one’s sexual orientation via ‘ex- therapy.’

Pence’s stance should rightly worry the nation, as his position is highly backwards, and hasn’t appeared to change. This position is partly echoed by the Republican National Committee, which, as part of its platform, declared that parents have the right to determine what sort of treatment their child should receive. This part of the platform has come under fire because of the successful efforts of Tony Perkins, a Louisiana delegate for the RNC and the head of the Family Research Council, to add the word “therapy” to the section. The Family Research Council is an organization that approves of ‘ex-gay therapy,’ and has attempted to dispute testimonies of individuals who suffered it.

As detailed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, ‘ex-gay therapy’ is a practice that aims to change the patient’s sexual orientation in often by trying to induce extreme revulsion and shame towards one’s same-sex desires. These practices have, in past decades, included using electroconvulsive therapy, or shock treatments.

The RNC’s platform, while not explicitly stating support for ‘ex-gay therapy,’ is still too open-ended to not be taken seriously. All of us should be concerned that like-minded parents will take the platform as inspiration to put their children through ‘ex-gay therapy,’ despite stories about the horrible damage it causes. This raises a question that needs to be answered: do parents really know what’s best for their LGBTQ children when, despite medical proof demonstrating otherwise, they choose to put their child through a practice that can lead to ?

Kirk Murphy and Leelah Alcorn

One particularly disturbing account of attempted ‘ex-gay therapy,’ is that of Kirk Murphy. In 2003, Kirk committed suicide at age 38, which shocked his family to the core, especially his little sister Maris. Maris investigated into Kirk’s childhood, which she couldn’t remember because she was a mere toddler when his “therapy” began at age five. Her investigation prompted their mother, Kaytee, to reveal that she chose to send Kirk to a government-funded program at the University of California, Los Angeles. It was there that Kirk underwent treatment by a psychologist named George A. Rekers, who, at the time, was a doctoral student. Rekers would eventually become one of the founding members of the Family Research Council.

Throughout Rekers’ experiment on Kirk, the boy was referred to as “Kraig” in the documentation of the research. The goal was to train Kirk to exhibit only masculine behaviors and avoid feminine behaviors. At the university, Kirk was placed in a room that had two tables with differing items separated into “masculine” and “feminine” categories. Researchers watched Kirk through a one-way mirror to see which items he would play with. Kaytee Murphy was instructed to ignore her son if he chose the feminine items, and to compliment him if he chose the masculine items. Even as Kirk cried out for attention when his mother ignored him, she was told to continue with her part in the experiment.

This conditioning continued at home, where Kirk’s parents implemented a poker chip system to monitor his behaviors. Blue chips represented masculine behaviors, while red represented feminine behaviors. Kirk would receive the corresponding chip while he was monitored at home. According to Rekers’ report of the experiment, if Kirk received a red chip, he would be punished with either a time-out or harsh spanking from his father. Maris remembered that her father used a belt to whip Kirk, and that Kirk’s screams were so bad that she would flee to her room and bury her head under her pillow. While the clinical treatment at the university lasted for 10 months, the practices at home went on for a while longer. After looking back on what happened to her son, Kaytee believed with good reason that the torment was responsible for destroying Kirk’s life, and his motivation for committing suicide years later.

Practitioners also inflict the horror of ‘ex-gay therapy’ onto individuals. Leelah Alcorn, a trans girl who was a resident of Kings Mill, Ohio, committed suicide in 2014 after being rejected by her parents, who refused to accept her gender. Leelah mentioned in her suicide letter that her parents took her to Christian therapists, who condemned Leelah, to her face, as selfish and wrong. The condemnation from both her parents and therapists ruined Leelah’s hopes for a positive future, and led to her taking her life at the age of 17.

As noted by these two incidents and unlike what the RNC believes, parents often do not know what treatment will truly help their child.

Can Sexuality Change At All?

This issue also poses the question of whether or not sexuality can ever actually change. This question, for some, is a major struggle to answer. Dr Rosario Butterfield, Ph.D. has dealt with this question personally. A former lesbian who refuses to use the term ‘ex-gay’ when describing herself. Dr. Butterfield converted to Christianity in 1999, after studying the Bible thoroughly when a new pastor friend convinced her to read it. Dr. Butterfield, though no longer a proponent for LGBTQ rights, firmly opposes conversion therapy, believing it to be heretical. A question anybody might ask her is the nature of her sexuality. Did becoming a Christian somehow make her straight? Or rather, did it help her fully understand her true sexual identity?

In order to understand Dr. Butterfield’s case, I would like to offer my own testimony as a gay Christian for consideration:

During my first semester here at University, before I was a Christian, I went through a bizarre and terrifying crisis over what my sexual orientation really is. Before I went to college, I thought that I was straight, and desperately denied the validity of experiences that said otherwise, such as a deep crush I had for one of my classmates that I even thought was true love. In my first months as a Kent freshman, I began to have strange dreams that sent me into an unending spiral of confusion over my sexual identity; throughout that semester, I went from thinking that I was straight, to gay, to bisexual, to bi-curious, then back to straight. The intensity and vividness of the dreams led me to realize that God was trying to wake myself up to who He knew I was.

In December 2013, during my first winter break, I somehow discovered a site called “Gay Christian 101”. On this site is a page that I now refer to as the “Jesus test,” or rather, a part of the site that helps you see the value in becoming a Christian, especially if you’re gay. Even though I had gone through confirmation in eighth grade, this page made me realize that I had never really taken Jesus in my heart. With that in mind, about three days before New Year’s Eve, I followed the prayers on the page and finally accepted Christ. What happened afterwards still freaks me out.

I can’t remember if it happened immediately that night or the next day, but all of a sudden, the fog in my mind that prevented me from seeing my true sexual identity was dispersed. I realized with a strangely powerful clarity that I’m 100 percent gay, and my desperate attempts to, rather stereotypically “pray the gay away” were only met with a firm peace. That peace gave me the courage to come out to my family about a week later. Naturally, hardly anybody was surprised at me coming out. They were just confused as to why I hadn’t said so sooner.

Based on my own personal experience, I believe that both Dr. Butterfield and I realized through Jesus who we really are, and that our true sexualities never changed. I also, as a Christian, strongly believe that attempting to put anybody, especially a minor, through “gay conversion therapy” is extremely harmful and probably a sin. I can’t imagine why anybody would believe that a practice that results in LGBTQ teens hating themselves enough to commit suicide is a loving, God-blessed therapy. And I will use my voice as loudly as possible until this nation accepts the facts and refuses to allow more innocent people to suffer such tragedies which belong in the past.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *