Guest Blogger

LGBT Youth & the Tyranny of Christian 'Conversion Therapy'

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 30, 2014 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: conversion therapy, ex-gay myth, ex-gay therapy, Lyn Duff, religion-based bigotry, reparative therapy, Samuel Brinton, spiritual abuse

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes and unmakes prejudice. While the creeds of the great religions are universalistic, all stressing brotherhood [sic], the practices of these creeds are frequently divisive and brutal."

(Gordon Allport, p. 444)

Living on a conservative Christian mission in Florida with his Southern Baptist minister parents, Samuel Brinton lied about his emerging feelings for other boys as a pre-teen because he feared his parents' reactions. After acknowledging that he was attracted to his best friend Dale when he was 12, Samuel's father told him he had AIDS, and repeatedly punched, burned, electroshocked, and inserted needles into his fingers to "cure" him. Eventually, Samuel felt forced to lie by telling his parents that he was actually heterosexual.


His parents sent him to a "religious therapist" who told Samuel that "I want you to know that you're gay, and all gay people have AIDS," and then placed pictures of men dying of AIDS before him. However, soon after arriving at Kansas State University, Samuel "came out" to his parents again, who told him he would not be welcomed home and threatened him if he returned.

But he turned his life around. Following graduation he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2011, Samuel Brinton was named the recipient of the National Voice & Action Award by Campus Pride, a national organization working for the rights of LGBT college and university students.

At age 14, Lyn Duff came out to her parents as lesbian. Not being able to accept this revelation, Lyn's mother whisked her immediately and involuntarily to Rivendell Psychiatric Center in West Jordan, Utah where she was forced to undergo so-called "conversion therapy" to cure her from what doctors at the facility termed "gender identity disorder" and "clinical depression."

Though Rivendell was not officially aligned with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Lyn remembers that on numerous occasions throughout her six-month incarceration, Mormon missionaries visited her, and her "therapy" was highly religious in tone.

This so-called "conversion therapy" really amounted to aversion techniques -- including watching lesbian pornography while being forced to smell ammonia, undergo hypnosis, take psychotropic drugs, and solitary confinement. Staff also imposed so-called "behavior modification" by requiring Lyn to wear dresses, and forced punishments of cutting the lawn with a small pair of scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush.

After being locked up for 168 days, Lyn somehow escaped Rivendell, and went to San Francisco where she lived on the streets and in safe houses.

She eventually connected with a local journalist, an attorney, Legal Services for Children, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and she fought and won in the courts a legal emancipation from her mother. A lesbian couple adopted her when was 15, and today Lyn Duff serves as a successful activist and journalist for the Pacific News Service and for KPFA radio's Flashpoints.

Many of the more extreme Christian Right groups and religious ministries push what they refer to as "Christian therapy" for the purpose of removing people from the so-called "homosexual lifestyle." It is important that parents, social workers, and other mental health professionals know that these so-called "therapies" go by many names: ex-gay religious ministries, Homosexuals Anonymous (a cynical co-optation of Twelve-Step program method of recovery), PFOX (Parents, Families, and Friends of Ex-Gays and Lesbians (an obvious rip-off of the LGBT allies support network PFLAG -- Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians), and so-called "conversion therapy" (a.k.a. "reparative" or "reorientation" therapy).

All falsely promise conversion to heterosexuality if the person has the requisite motivation to change.

These tyrannical and bogus "therapies" have been harshly condemned by reputable psychiatric organizations. For example, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution on August 14, 1997, which reads in part:

"Whereas societal ignorance and prejudice about same-gender sexual orientation put some gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning individuals at risk for presenting for 'conversion' treatment due to family or social coercion and/or lack of information.... Whereas some mental health professionals advocate treatments of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder.... Therefore be it resolved that the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation."

In 2008, the APA passed a resolution, "Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression Non-Discrimination," opposing "all public and private discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity and expression and [urging] the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies."

California in August 2012 became the first state to outlaw the practice of "conversion therapies" for people under the age of 18 after reviewing reports of the destructive nature of these so-called therapies. New Jersey followed soon after. A number of other states are currently considering similar legislation.

While his state was holding hearings on the issue, a young man testified in front of the New Jersey Senate Health Committee on March 18, 2013:

My name is Jacob Rudolph,
I am an LGBT teen.
I am not broken.
I am not confused.
I do not need to be fixed.

Jacob Rudolph, Lyn Duff, Samuel Brinton, and many other young people have cut to the very heart of the issue by showing that the problem does not reside within those of us whose sexuality and gender identity and expression differs from the majority, but rather, within society, including a (hopefully) shrinking minority of religious denominations that adhere to an erroneous view of human diversity.

rainbow_bible.jpgReturning to Gordon Allport's opening quote referring to the paradoxical role of religion to make and unmask prejudice, likewise, on close examination, religious texts -- between disparate religions and between denominations, and even within a single text -- stand paradoxically and even contradictory. Moreover, individuals and entire denominations often interpret identical scriptural passages very differently, and they also emphasize and adhere to some readings while disregarding and even dismissing others.

When we attempt to answer the question, "How can we ensure a just and equitable worldview?", one particular passage stands out:

"If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers." (James 2: 8-9)

Rainbow Bible image by David W. Shelton.

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