Doctors, Ministries Turn Against Gay ‘Conversion Therapy’

The American Academy of Pediatrics has unveiled a new set of policies to combat homophobia.
By @TrishaMarczakMP |
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    (Photo/Kimberly Muñoz via Flickr)

    (Photo/Kimberly Muñoz via Flickr)

    For the first time since 2004, the American Academy of Pediatrics has unveiled a new set of policies, this time related to supportive health care for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. The policies mark a turning point in the health care field and have sparked debate among organizations that promote therapy they say can reverse an individual’s sexual orientation.

    According to the AAP, LGBT youth experience increased rates of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and sexually transmitted diseases. They also attempt suicide at a rate double that of heterosexual youth.

    The increased rates of depression and bullying facing gay and lesbian youth comes in the midst of debate throughout the nation about Christian ministries that offer “reparative therapy,” which proponents say can reverse LGBT orientations. Recently, Exodus International, the nation’s largest conversion therapy ministry, closed its doors, acknowledging that its work could have been doing more harm than good.

    The AAP’s new policy aims to eradicate such reparative therapy techniques and instead create an atmosphere that allows youth to openly discuss sexual orientation without feeling as though they’re on the wrong moral side of the issue. The policies lay out the “gender-neutral” vocabulary pediatricians are encouraged to use in an effort to create welcoming environments for all youth.

    “Stigmatization, ostracism, and parental rejection remain common,” the policy states. “Resulting struggles with self-image and self-esteem put sexual minority youth at risk.”

    The new policy echoes the viewpoint of the American Psychological Association, which encourages psychologists to “take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay and bisexual orientations.”

    The AAP is considered a leading organization tasked with addressing issues relating not only to the health of infants and childrens, but also young adults, and not just physical but also mental health. With more than 60,000 pediatricians in the organization, the impact of the new policy is likely to be far-reaching.

    That doesn’t please everyone.

     

    Splitting from the AAP

    The American College of Pediatricians was formed in 2002 after the American Academy of Pediatrics began to adopt LGBT-friendly policies. The ACP has emerged as a staunch opponent of the AAP’s views, adopting its own policies that encourage LGBT youth to be steered in a different direction.

    The American College of Pediatrics does agree with the AAP on one thing: Gay and bisexual youth both experience higher rates of depression, suicide, anxiety and abuse. However, the way in which the two organizations aim to address the issue is quite different.

    For the AAP, creating an open atmosphere for youth is key, as it eliminates the veil of shame that can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. The American College of Pediatrics encourages a reversal in sexual orientation.

    “Having same-sex attractions, fantasies and/or experiences as an adolescent does not mean that a teen is or will be homosexual,” it states in its policy.

    The American College of Pediatrics says LGBT individuals suffer from a condition known as “Same Sex Attraction,” or SSA. According to its policy, the condition is “preventable and changeable” for those seeking to become straight.

    “Parents have the right to make informed healthcare decisions for their children based on accurate and unbiased information, as do psychosocially mature adolescents themselves,” the policy states. “While sexual attractions may not be consciously chosen, one can choose what to do with these attractions once recognized. No one is ‘born gay.’ Biological and environmental influences may be fostered or foiled.”

    According to the American Psychological Association, this type of therapy is not encouraged.

    “All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation,” its website states. “To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective.”

    The American College of Pediatrics believes otherwise, claiming that doctors who have “treated” those dissatisfied with “their SSA” have been successful. Citing the work of Dr. Nicholas Cummings, a former APP president, the organization claims that out of 18,000 who sought treatment, 20 percent were “successfully reoriented,” while the remaining 80 percent “went on to decrease high-risk homosexual behaviors.”

    Coming out against ‘reparative gay therapy’

    The revised AAP policy comes in the midst of two major revelations in the Christian reparative therapy movement.

    This month, Exodus International, one of the nation’s most well-known Christian ministries focused on reparative gay therapy, announced it was calling it quits.

    “Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” Exodus President Alan Chamber said in a statement. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”

    The statement didn’t explicitly say the organization was changing its biblical perception of sin, but it did indicate that their practices over the year, in relation to how they treated the gay community, could have been flawed.

    “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom,” the press release states. “God is calling us to be the Father — to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”

    Exodus indicated it would begin a new ministry — Reduce Fear, described as a community that is “safe, welcoming and mutually transforming.” Its website — ReduceFear.org — is not yet up and running.

    The news emerging from Exodus followed another revelation in the “conversation therapy” world.

    John Paulk, former leader in the Christian ministry movement, is co-author of the book, “Love Won Out: How God’s Love Helped Two People Leave Homosexuality and Find Each Other.”

    The book, released in 1999, details the life of two people who were “struggling with homosexuality,” yet found one another and married. The Paulks have been a dynamic duo, leading the ministry Love Won Out, which was eventually purchased by Exodus International.

    In April, Paulk announced his rejection of, and apology for, his work in the “ex-gay movement.” In a statement, he announced the divorce from his wife and his new identity.

    “I do not consider myself ‘ex-gay’ and I no longer support or promote the movement,” he said in a statement. “Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.”

    Paulks’ wife, Ann, however, has not taken the same route.

    “There are also certain paths I have refused to walk down, dark and dangerous paths of deceit and sin. Someone dear to me has made different choices followed by very different words,” she said in a statement issued through Restore Hope Network. “And there, on that path, our ways part sadly.”

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