Dear President Canfield:
First, I want to thank the American Counseling Association for supporting ethical standards in its work with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Your organization has helped many people and allowed them to live openly and honestly with dignity and respect. The ACA has been a model for proper treatment and I applaud you for your commitment to assuring a superb standard of care for all people.
Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that a group of politically motivated right wing counselors are working to undermine the ACA’ effective guidelines for dealing with GLBT clients. This group recently filed a formal complaint falsely claming that the ACA has violated its own polices. It’ real goal, however, is to bully the ACA into allowing unscrupulous practitioners to harm clients, while shielding its damage in the cloak of religious liberty.
As the leader of an organization that represents victims of ex-gay therapy, I urge you to soundly reject this stealth attempt to inject bad policies and biased practices into ACA guidelines. My organization, TruthWinsOut.org, offers its support and would gladly supply you with testimonials — video or in person — of people who have been severely damaged as a result of so-called ex-gay therapy. These survivors represent the psychological carnage that often accompanies attempts to either change or repress one’ natural sexual orientation.
In addition to my work with TruthWinsOut.org, I have studied “ex-gay” therapy for a decade and authored the book, “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.” My research concluded that the therapy promoted by the counselors who filed this complaint is harmful, ineffective and based on outdated psychological theories.
Indeed, many of those who signed the letter have confused stereotypes with genuine science. For example, they still believe that a distant same-sex parent causes homosexuality. Their “cure” is instructing a client to form platonic friendships with same-sex friends and playing sports. Such nonsense might have seemed credible 35 years ago — when few gay people were out of the closet. In 2008, however, we now know that this simplistic cause and effect model is false. There is incontrovertible evidence that GLBT people can excel in sports and come from every imaginable background. What the ex-gay therapists are endorsing are anachronistic ideas from a bygone era.
Some ex-gay counselors, such as Dr. Warren Throckmorton, actually promote the peculiar notion that one can effectively separate sexual identity from attraction. The idea that one can spend an entire lifetime in such obvious denial is untenable and a recipe for inner-turmoil.
Still, Throckmorton and others cruelly peddle the mental health mirage of the happy celibate gay person living according to his or her values. In ten years of going to ex-gay conferences, the people I have met who are living in this state of love-limbo are hopelessly despondent and constantly on the verge of tears. This certainly can’t be the standard of care for good mental health and we sincerely hope the ACA does not acquiesce to this damaging pseudoscience.
Sadly, many right wing counselors hold on to these outdated notions because they are more interested in defending their religious beliefs than doing what is best for their clients. They seem to believe that they have the special right as fundamentalists to use bizarre techniques and ignore normal therapy guidelines. Instead of ethical counselors who just happen to be Christian, they are politically motivated fundamentalists who can’t separate church and couch. This is similar to
“scientists” who promote “intelligent design.” They wear lab coats, yet disdain science and stealthily try to slip their discredited theories into the mainstream.
Conspicuously absent in the letter to the ACA are examples of how these therapists supposedly help their clients. They are coy about their routine endorsement of exorcisms and tell clients that they may have demons in their bodies. They sometimes instruct clients to wear rubber bands on their wrists and snap them whenever they find a person physically attractive. Other times, “touch therapy” is employed, where the counselor caresses (sometimes abusively) a client sitting on his or her lap.
We also find it disturbing that these counselors are promoting a therapy that has not shown any degree of success. The dropout rates for those in ex-gay ministry or therapy are staggering and the ill effects can last a lifetime. Unfortunately, for all their bluster about “success,” right wing counselors have had great difficulty offering even anecdotal examples of sexual conversion or well-adjusted celibate homosexuals.
At TruthWinsOut.org, we have found that most ex-gay testimonials come from paid staffers at political organizations, such as Exodus International or Focus on the Family. We rarely find people who claim long-term success that are not compensated political lobbyists — thus presenting a clear conflict of interest, since they derive their livelihood from their personal story.
Exhibit A is Dr. Warren Throckmorton, who is the leader of the shame-based therapy movement. He has claimed to have treated 250 clients, yet he has not once put forth an on-record example of how his therapy has helped a single person. Throckmorton also produced a defamatory ex-gay video entitled, “I Do Exist.” The movie’s opening scene was a wide shot of the 8th Avenue New York porn palaces that supposedly represent gay life. His film featured Joanne Highley, a known exorcist, who in a previous video that appeared on PBS (One Nation Under God) discussed how she extracted the demon of homosexuality from the orifices of gay men.
The bottom line is that these right wing therapists are central to the problem, not the solution. They do absolutely nothing to make clients heterosexual or reconcile faith and sexuality. All these therapists accomplish is enticing vulnerable clients to pay dearly for the identical shame and repression they previously received for free.
Finally, those who wrote the letter arrogantly suggested that they represent Christianity. They are but a few misguided sects of the religion – and ones that often give the faith a bad name. These therapists would be infinitely more helpful if they would explain to suffering clients that many theologians disagree with their rigid worldview. Instead, they choose to further stigmatize desperate and vulnerable people and cruelly use threats of going to Hell or social rejection to damage the self worth of clients.
On behalf of the legions of ex-gay survivors, we strongly urge you to rebuff this furtive attempt to use political pressure and legal intimidation to reverse the ACA’ laudable guidelines for assisting GLBT clients. TruthWinsOut.org is here to assist you in highlighting how these right wing counselors are a danger to their clients and push bizarre theories and practices that are without merit. We have confidence that the ACA will continue in its proud tradition of being guided by the latest science and doing what is best for its clients.
Wayne R. Besen