Thursday, November 29, 2012

Congresswoman Speier and SPLC Challenge Conversion Therapy

Enormous controversy surrounds so-called conversion therapy, a dubious therapeutic treatment that purports to turn gay people straight. Fortunately, conversion therapy has come under increased condemnation by professional organizations and LGBTQ advocates in recent years. Two recent developments have dealt another blow to this destructive form of counseling.

First, on November 27th, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced that it had filed a lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing. The complaint charges that JONAH, Goldberg, and Downing violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act by purporting that they could change clients' sexual orientation from gay to straight. The SPLC's complaint accuses JONAH et al. of citing the highly problematic work of Joseph Nicolosi and Richard A. Cohen, two major proponents of conversion therapy. Nicolosi is infamous for co-founding the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

According to the complaint, the four men among the plaintiffs were subjected to grossly inappropriate "therapy" practices, such as being told to remove all clothing, intimately hold other men (including counselors), and beat an effigy of their mother with a tennis racket. These strange practices are contraindicated by modern therapeutic practice, the complaint argues.

The toxic messages of such conversion therapy, the complaint observes, are that "being gay is loathsome and that gay people are more likely to be pedophiles, drug abusers, and alcoholics. In order to promote their services, [JONAH et al.] also falsely claimed that gay people are all generally lonely, suicidal, and have or will contract HIV/AIDS." The complaint points out parallels between these homophobic messages and the discredited ideas of psychiatrist Paul Cameron, whom it calls "the architect of modern anti-gay pseudoscience."

Second, on November 28th, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-California) introduced the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) resolution at a press conference. Co-sponsored by Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Florida) and Congressman David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), the resolution seeks to protect minors from abusive conversion therapy practices.  According to Congresswoman Speier's website, Speier is also investigating whether federal money has been used to fund conversion therapy.

Congresswoman Speier delivered the resolution alongside representatives from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The resolution emphasized that LGBTQ status is not an illness, decrying efforts by mental health practitioners to change gender identity or sexual orientation as "dangerous and harmful". The statement declared that conversion therapy should not be practiced on minors, citing research and statements by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and other professional organizations on the inefficacy and damaging effects of conversion therapy.
"(a) IN GENERAL.—It is the sense of Congress that sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts directed at minors are discredited and ineffective, have no legitimate therapeutic purpose, and are dangerous and harmful.
(b) STATE ENCOURAGEMENT.—Congress encourages each State to take steps to protect minors from efforts that promote or promise to change sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental illness or developmental disorder that can or should be cured."
These developments should be applauded. In the wake of California Governor Jerry Brown signing SB 1172 -- a bill banning conversion therapy for minors -- it is exciting to see more condemnation of this homophobic "therapy." I would like to see more public condemnation of the so-called "ex-gay" movement in general, against both its religious and therapeutic branches.

The ex-gay movement must be held accountable for its sins. Branding all non-heterosexual orientations as automatically pathological -- whether in a religious setting such as Exodus International or a supposedly "therapeutic" setting -- is false and unethical. Stereotyping LGBTQ life as a cesspool of debauchery and despair -- whether by so-called ex-gay speakers or so-called therapists -- is vile. LGBTQ persons need acceptance and respect, not homophobic quackery.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

The Trevor Project: Rep. Jackie Speier Introduces Resolution to Protect Youth from Dangerous and Discredited Conversion Efforts

Human Rights Campaign: HRC Praises Introduction of Resolution Condemning Use of Dangerous Psychological Practices

Truth Wins Out: Statement on the ‘Stop Harming Our Kids’ (SHOK) Resolution

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation: Eye on the Media: Facts About So-Called "Ex-Gay" Therapy

Daily Kos: Southern Poverty Law Center files landmark consumer fraud suit against "gay cure therapists"


  1. Glad to hear my congresswoman is doing some good things!

    1. Donna -- I'm proud of her for taking a stand.

  2. I'll just take a moment to bask in the glory of good news. :-)

    1. Wise Fool -- It's most welcome good news!


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