is not trying to convert you
More from Patrick Strudwick
Two years ago, in the Guardian, I declared war on therapists and psychiatrists who attempt to “cure” gay people. Today the campaign against such abusive practices, both here and in the USA, is gaining ground. Victory is in sight. So-called conversion therapy – also known as reparative therapy – is in crisis. And it’s not just people on the outside holding it up to scrutiny that’s doing the trick, it’s imploding from the inside.
The most monumental development has come from the American conversion therapy movement itself. Alan Chambers, the head of Exodus International, one of the largest of such organisations with 260 ministries in the US and around the world, has admitted it doesn’t work in “99.9%” of cases.
Many have advised caution, warning that Chambers is not to be trusted. But while he’ll never be the gay rights movement’s greatest champion, his bold move will grant him no personal, political or financial gain. Quite the opposite.
Already, other conversion therapy organisations have publicly lampooned him. Many have called for his resignation. Eleven organisations under the umbrella of Exodus have broken rank, splitting from their parent body. Andrew Cominskey, the director of Desert Stream Ministries, one of the largest of these, split from Exodus “due to Alan Chambers’s appeasement of practicing homosexuals who claim to be Christian” and his denial of the efficacy of conversion therapy.
It even sparked a public spat between Chambers and Joseph Nicolosi, one of the other leading figures in US conversion therapy. The fight provoked Nicolosi into making an astonishing admission: “I have never said I could cure someone completely from homosexuality. All my books make it quite clear that homosexual attractions will persist to someone degree throughout a person’s lifetime.” This is like – if you’ll forgive a rather frivolous comparison – Mystic Meg saying, “Yeah, astrology can’t really predict your future.”
A huge schism now exists in the American cure-the-gays movement. Chambers’s comments also pose a grave risk to funding from larger Christian right groups who have long injected money into the reparative therapy movement.
This volcanic eruption came in July, just two months after an even greater blow to conversion therapy. Dr Robert Spitzer, a prominent psychiatrist whose 2001 reparative therapy study was routinely cited by the movement as evidence that it works, denounced his own findings.
“I believe I owe the gay community an apology,” he wrote. “I also apologise to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works.”
Doctors, scientists and psychiatrists so rarely admit that they are wrong, particularly ones whose work underpins an entire movement, that the devastating effect of this admission can scarcely be overstated. It is a stake through the dark heart of reparative therapy. Its thin veneer of respectability, its claims to scientific basis have been shattered.
But that’s not all. A bill banning reparative therapy for minors has passed in California. Once the State Assembly approves it, gay kids will no longer be subjected to homophobic therapists telling them they can change. Other states are sure to follow suit.
And in Britain? First, in April, in an uncharacteristic moment of pro-gay whip-cracking, London’s mayor Boris Johnson stopped “clearly offensive” adverts from Core Issues, a UK conversion therapy organisation, from appearing on the side of buses around the capital. The adverts barely even made sense. In an attempt to take off Stonewall’s famous “Some people are gay, get over it” slogan, these ads read, “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it.” What? The average Londoner would have no idea what that means.
This slap-down came just weeks after another humiliation. The head of Core Issues, Mike Davidson, who is merely a trainee therapist, had his membership to his professional body revoked after defending attempts to turn gays straight on BBC Radio Ulster.
And finally, there was my victory. Three years ago I went undercover, receiving “treatment” for my orientation from a Christian therapist called Lesley Pilkington. After publishing the results in the Independent I made a complaint to her professional body, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Last year they found her guilty of “professional malpractice”. She appealed. But in May she lost the appeal becoming the first qualified reparative therapist in history to be found guilty of malpractice.
The momentum is with us, but so far, only in the West. Around the rest of the world, LGBT people are routinely being subjected to this “psychological torture” – as one victim described it to me. We must continue to fight. Our gay brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America need us more than ever.