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California’s gay ‘conversion therapy’ ban challenged

A law banning therapists in California from attempting to change the sexual orientation of same-sex attracted youths was tested in the courts this week. At issue were the rights to professional free speech…

Ex-gay therapies utilise spiritual methods such as prayer, and a personal relationship with God. Leland Francisco

A law banning therapists in California from attempting to change the sexual orientation of same-sex attracted youths was tested in the courts this week. At issue were the rights to professional free speech, and the protection of minors from unproven and unethical treatment.

Californian governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, signed the bill into law in September. California was the first state in the United States to pass such a law.

On Monday, Federal District Court Judge William B. Shubb temporarily exempted three therapists from the law. Then, on Tuesday, Judge Kimberly Mueller refused an appeal to block the law. It’s currently due to come into effect on 1 January 2013.

Gay “conversion therapy” is practised around the world, including by numerous groups around Australia. The largest global “ex-gay” organisation, Exodus International, lists nine affiliated organisations operating in Australia. Living Waters International also runs several groups around Australia that offer healing for “sexual brokenness”, a category in which they include homosexuality. Courage, a Vatican-sponsored Roman Catholic organisation, operates in six Australian cities. And Jewish and Muslim groups are also known to offer conversion therapy.

While there’s currently no published scholarly research on the ex-gay movement in Australia, treatments offered here appear to conform to those offered around the Western world.

History of conversion therapy

In the early 20th century, attempts to alter a person’s sexual orientation tended to be based on Freudian understandings of sexuality. In this model, homosexuality was viewed as the product of arrested sexual development. Freud himself thought homosexuality was “nothing to be ashamed of” and was not an illness. Others, however, have used his theories to attempt to repair deviations from “normal” sexual development through talking cures.

In the 1950s and 1960s, new therapies developed in clinical psychology began to be used. These were based on the principle that neurological disorders would respond to behaviour modification, such as aversion therapy.

In these therapies, patients would be exposed to homosexual erotic stimuli and then given electric shocks or chemicals that would induce vomiting. It was thought these traumatic experiences would become associated with homosexual eroticism. The patient would then develop an aversion to homosexual stimulation. Aversion therapy was administered in mainstream health facilities and was often court-ordered, an alternative to imprisonment in an era when gay sex was illegal.

In the last three decades of the 20th century, homosexual sex was decriminalised in most Western jurisdictions. It also ceased to be considered an illness by all major professional mental health bodies. This is when the modern ex-gay movement was born.

Ex-gay therapies utilise a blend of popular self-help techniques (based on the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous) and a spiritual methods such as prayer, confession, bible reading, and a personal relationship with God. They sometimes also include exorcisms.

By any other means

Despite almost 100 years of experimentation with different methods to change a person’s sexual orientation, there’s no peer-reviewed research demonstrating that “conversion” is possible. The most that the various therapies achieved was a reduction in homosexual desire. And this did not equate to an increase in heterosexual desire.

Many ex-gay groups around the world are coming to terms with this fact. The president of Exodus international recently renounced that group’s long-held position that homosexuality can be “cured”. Courage has long focused on helping Catholics live chaste lives, rather than attempting to change their sexual desires.

Other groups, such as Liberty Christian Ministries, associated with the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, accept that changing homosexuality may be impossible by natural means. Nevertheless, their belief in divine intervention means they continue to state that change may be possible through supernatural means.

So while ex-gay groups attempt to demonstrate the scientific grounds for their methods, evidence-based opposition to the ex-gay movement will not be successful. Ex-gay methods are ultimately not grounded in science, but in spiritual sources of change not amenable to verification through scholarly methods.

This explains why pro-conversion groups in the United States were this week protesting the Californian ban not on health grounds, but on their right to freedom of speech.

Join the conversation

44 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Geoff Taylor

    Consultant

    This discussion is premised on black and white notions of sexuality. Whatever happened to Kinsey's sexuality spectrum?

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  2. Mark Amey

    logged in via Facebook

    Can we 'pray away the gay?'

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  3. Dania Ng

    Retired factory worker

    "Ex-gay methods are ultimately not grounded in science, but in spiritual sources of change not amenable to verification through scholarly methods". So then, please explain how the American Psychiatric Association arrived at the following statement which is part of its original policy (as far back as 1973) on changing the classification of Homosexuality and Sexual Orientation Disturbance:
    "A significant proportion of homosexuals are quite bothered by, in conflict with, or wish to change their sexual…

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    1. Zoe Brain

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Re: Sexual orientation change efforts in men: A client perspective.

      "Now the way NARTH discusses the study, one might think replication of prior change research was the intent, but it was not a study that was designed to “establish the efficacy” of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). Rather, the authors surveyed 117 men who were trying to change and asked them what seemed to be working in their quest. It was not an outcome study and there were no follow up interviews with any of the subjects…

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    2. Zoe Brain

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dania Ng

      From the abstract:

      "This study concerned the psychological and social characteristics of 117 men dissatisfied with their same-sex attraction who had pursued sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). We specifically examined whether sexual identity, male identity, religiosity, marital status, and gender role conflict associated with affection between men were related to self-reports of change in sexual and psychological functioning after having participated in SOCE. Additionally, we explored what…

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    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Ms Ng - did you not notice that the first paper you linked to was from 1973?

      (Busy day at the factory, perhaps?)

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    4. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Dear Sue, I did quote the 1973 policy brief (it is not a paper as such!), written by no other than Prof Spitzer, and I did so on purpose. If you read what I have written more carefully, you would no doubt see why I did this. However, I hold no great hope that you would be able to do this, in my past dealing with you on these here fora I could discern little capacity to actually read something without your well-used lens of bias. But, since you are fond of providing hints about who I am, here's one in return - the above piece is supposed to be written by a 'historian', whose aim is obviously to link the imaginary disrepute of 'reparative' therapy with religious zealotry. Get it? H-i-s-t-o-r-i-c-a-l evidence that the practice of psychiatry [not religious groups] included 'reparative' therapy.

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    5. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Mark Amey, please explain then why the study is not, actually, being withdrawn?

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    6. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dania Ng

      'Mark Amey, please explain then why the study is not, actually, being withdrawn?'

      The study, ten years on, can't be unpublished, fair enough, but, the author has come out and stated that the methodology was poor and not worthy of publishing. One cannot 'unpublish' a publication!!

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    7. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Zoe Brain, thank you for taking the time to rebut my points. I feel you missed the crux of what I am arguing. I have attempted to show that this author is wrong in claiming that there is no evidence to back the claim that people who wish to change their sexual orientations can do so. In my first post I have also taken issue with the obvious dig at those who have religious motives and beliefs by associating this so-called issue of 'reparative' therapy with just the religious organisations that provide…

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  4. Tom Hennessy

    Retired

    The whole of the LBGTQ community , is caused by hormones evidenced in those with Klinefelter Syndrome.
    "Many ISNA members with klinefelter syndrome are homosexual, a few are transsexual"
    The 'gay conversion therapy' could be likened to quackery , in that they are using questionable methods , but as in most disease states , when the PROPER intervention is used then a recovery is afforded , so banning the treatment of hormone deficiency to cure homosexuality should not be included in the outright ban.
    "Hyperoestrogenism and androgen deficiency are linked to the development of the signs of feminization and hypogonadism"

    At one time bloodletting was the ONLY treatment available for hormone deficiency / hypogonadism.

    "Resolved completely after venesection"

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    1. Zoe Brain

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tom Hennessy

      The problem there is that there's no evidence that post-natal hormones do anything more than intensify or diminish a sexual orientation, they don't change it.

      The situation appears to be, as far as we can tell, that a potential sexual orientation - androphillic, gynephillic, or a combination is established while still in the womb.

      It remains merely a potential until exposed to the years-long hormone surges at puberty. Those Intersex people who do not have this normal surge don''t have a strong…

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  5. John Zigar

    Engineer, researcher

    I can't believe that in the 21st Century we are still trying to 'heal' gay people. Then again, we still kill each other in wars and let religion misguide us.

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  6. Zoe Brain

    logged in via Facebook

    Sue Leraci - Ms Ng mentioned the URLs and references she used to come to her conclusions.

    She is to be strongly commended for that - for without giving the evidence, how can anyone judge our conclusions? I've tried to follow her example, so that I too can be "fact-checked". There's an awful lot of politics here, and not very much of the Intellectual honesty Ms Ng has shown.

    Her conclusions are incorrect, drastically so, but that may be because she hasn't been exposed to views other than those…

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Ms Ng shows intellectual honesty?

      (Hint: do you think she is really a factory worker?)

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    2. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Ms Brain - You might be intellectually honest but I suggest you are affording a compliment to Ms Ng where none is deserved.

      If you wish to understand where Ms Ng's predisposed views come from just have a look at her, er, "enlightened" contributions on this thread

      https://theconversation.edu.au/attention-peter-jensen-homosexuality-doesnt-kill-but-homophobia-can-9589 where she stated "most gay people I have ever met were rude, belligerent, bullies and unfair (not to mention foul mouth). So I simply avoid discussions with them, just to be safe"

      or the various articles on the Royal Commission into child abuse which, in Ms Ng's world, can be seen only through the stereotype of evil gays (confusing pedophilia with same sex attraction).

      Is that "intellectual honesty"? Or is it, possibly, bigoted prejudice that seeks out opinion dressed as fact to support a world view?

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    3. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Thanks for defending me, Zoe, but I am capable of defending myself against the likes of Sue Ieraci - I have dealt with her in other threads where she spitefully trolled me.
      Now, please allow me to respond to some of the things you say here. Warren Throckmorton is only an Associate Professor - the equivalent of a lowly lecturer in Australia. As his efforts to get promoted were stifled somewhat by his association with NARTH, he changed camps. I don't see this as an indication that NARTH is entirely…

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    4. Zoe Brain

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      My point was not Dr Rekers failings as a paediatrician, or as a human being.

      My point is that his work was re-examined only after his hypocrisy had been revealed.

      As you said, his moral character is irrelevant. His work should stand on its own. It doesn't. He has left a trail of corpses behind him. Children who suicided after receiving his treatment. Children who his publications claimed had been "successfully cured" of Gender Issues.

      Some - myself included - tried to bring this situation…

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    5. Zoe Brain

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Ms Ng wrote on another thread:

      "But marriage is not denied to anyone that's of legal age and single, Bruce - you should know that if you lecture in law. "

      That is factually incorrect. Even broadly interpreting "of legal age" to include "and of sound mind" - capable of understanding the issues.

      Current marriage law only permits marriages between those who are men, and those who are women. Not everyone.

      Caselaw: In the Case of C and D (falsely called C)

      "I am satisfied on the evidence…

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    6. In reply to Zoe Brain

      Comment removed by moderator.

    7. Zoe Brain

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      "At a next opportune moment, try a different statement - this time say that Christians are nuts, and that they ought to be held responsible for all the ills of society."

      First, despite the fact that belief that one is "possessed by demons" or that "God commanded me to do this" is a sign of psychosis, there is an arbitrary blanket exclusion that prevents religious belief from being classed as a mental illness, even though some (not all) extreme beliefs meet all the criteria.

      There are far too…

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    8. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Thanks for linking to your blog, Zoe, and for taking the time to talk about the sad case of 'Kraig'. My general response is, the issue under discussion here is whether there is evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. No amount of quoting sad cases, morally 'different' scholars, hypocritical and sick 'pediatricians' changes this topic, but it can detract from it - which I feel is what you're now doing. I note you do not address any of the other points I have made, choosing instead to begin…

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    9. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Zoe Brain, you quote me partially: "At a next opportune moment, try a different statement - this time say that Christians are nuts, and that they ought to be held responsible for all the ills of society", and then you offer some opinions on it. Fine. But you digress, and you neglect to discuss the exercise I proposed in its entirety. So, to return you to it in a simplified form: try standing in the busy mall of your local shopping centre and yell at the top of your voice "Christians are the source of all evil in the world". A while later, try yelling "Homosexuals are the source of many ills in society". And seeing that you are highly unlikely to do so, the point is that the veracity of these claims matters not, but that your ability to hold and express differing views does.

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    10. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Ms Ng says, apparently referring to me: " I have dealt with her in other threads where she spitefully trolled me."

      Very amusing, Ms Ng, not-a-factory-worker.

      I am not a spiteful person, but I do like a good argument. You will find my comments peppered in many of the threads on this site - don't imagine you hold any particular interest.

      The whole idea here is that if you say things that others disagree with, especially if they are illogical or based on cognitive errors, others will come in and argue against you. That's the whole idea, isn't it?

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    11. In reply to Zoe Brain

      Comment removed by moderator.

    12. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Sue Ieraci: "I am not a spiteful person ... don't imagine you hold any particular interest"
      So then, why are you here, Sue? You do realise that 10% of all posts (to this point) here were contributed by you, and they are entirely (negatively) focused on me? You do also realise that you have not contributed anything to the actual discussion? And finally, you do realise that most people are not stupid, and they can see what you are doing?
      And it is Mrs, not Ms. But it's fine and you can call me whatever you like, I am used to the disrespect and arrogance which the likes of you like to wield as a form of a 'good argument', as you call it.

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    13. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Dania Ng: "And it is Mrs, not Ms. But it's fine and you can call me whatever you like, I am used to the disrespect and arrogance "

      Oh - addressing a female as Ms is arrogant and disrespectful?

      Is there an association between anti-feminism and homophobia?

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    14. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Sue Ieraci
      "Oh - addressing a female as Ms is arrogant and disrespectful?" - I think it is, if you do not have her permission to do so, and especially if she happens to be from a different cultural background where marriage is not seen as oppressive to women.
      "Is there an association between anti-feminism and homophobia?" I don't know, is there? I am a liberal feminist, so I take it that you adhere to radical feminism, since you'd rather call married women 'Ms'. Homophobia is a term invented by a homosexual, it means fear of homosexuals (the latter term is also invented by a man who liked having sex with men). So it is nonsense, since liberal feminists do not generally fear homosexuals. And I actually feel sorry for them, in the same way I feel sorry for anyone who harms themselves and others, and are in need of help. As a medical person you should know what I mean.

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    15. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Ms Ng claims "Homophobia is a term invented by a homosexual"

      Fact free and mistaken as usual

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Weinberg_(psychologist)

      http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/homophobia.html

      The term was invented by George Weinberg, a psychotherapist, and self-identified heterosexual.

      Making it up as she goes along as usual it would appear? Perhaps Dr Weinberg had people like Ms Ng in mind when he coined the term. It is certainly apt in this instance.

      But, Dania, don't let facts or evidence get in the way of your prejudice - after all - you haven't up till now :)

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    16. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Harrigan is correct when he states that I was mistaken in claiming that Weinberg, the inventor of the term 'homophobia', is a homosexual. I should have said that he is a gay activist, which makes him at least a honorary homosexual. He is also a heterophobe, so I don't know how he lives with himself. Here is what he said in an interview: "Another high point was getting a PhD in clinical psychology at Columbia and seeing how hidebound, unimaginative, inhumane and stupid my classmates and the professors…

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    17. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Thanks for the link, Dania. Weinberg struck me as very humane, not a creep, or a heterophobe (as you put it). I'm putting his books on my 'to read' list!

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    18. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Having been corrected, Ms Ng says "Harrigan is correct when he states that I was mistaken in claiming that Weinberg, the inventor of the term 'homophobia', is a homosexual. I should have said that he is a gay activist, which makes him at least a honorary homosexual."

      So are animal rights activists honorary animals? Are parents who campaign in support of their gay children honorary homosexuals? Are people who campaign against elder abuse honorary old people?

      Ms Ng, your writing is reasonably eloquent but your biases and cognitive errors are astounding.

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    19. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Sue Ieraci, in response to my observation that the self-proclaimed homosexual activist Weinberg is at least an honorary homosexual, states, "So are animal rights activists honorary animals? Are parents who campaign in support of their gay children honorary homosexuals? Are people who campaign against elder abuse honorary old people?"
      Well, the answer to these questions is 'no', of course. There is a simple reason why there is a difference, and I suggest to you Sue that it is not my 'cognitive errors…

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    20. In reply to Zoe Brain

      Comment removed by moderator.

    21. In reply to Zoe Brain

      Comment removed by moderator.

    22. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Mrs Ng, your ad hominem attacks on Dr Harrigan are reprehensible, but I'm sure he will be quick to reply.

      Just keep looking out for those militant gays...they could be up to anything!

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    23. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      Mark Amey. Are you the one that keeps reporting me? Maybe I have done Harrigan an injustice thinking it was him. And to answer your accusation, "your ad hominem attacks on Dr Harrigan are reprehensible, but I'm sure he will be quick to reply". What attacks? Where are they? You mean me taking the mickey out of him because he persists in calling me names? These, dear chap are the tactics of homosexual radicals, see the irony? Most probably not ... but not to worry, my deleted post can soon be found…

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    24. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Zoe Brain

      'Mark Amey. Are you the one that keeps reporting me? ' No, the first time was today, for the reason outlined.

      'And to answer your accusation, "your ad hominem attacks on Dr Harrigan are reprehensible, but I'm sure he will be quick to reply". What attacks? Where are they? ' You implied that Dr Harrigan was stupid, and that, now he is preening his feathers...don't know why he would be doing hat, unless he really is one of the Avian race.

      'Your sarcasm is what is reprehensible here. As per expected…

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    25. In reply to Zoe Brain

      Comment removed by moderator.

  7. Arthur James Egleton Robey

    Industrial Electrician

    Will you lot please stop talking about sex. It is boring. Just say No. You will survive without it.

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  8. Geoff Taylor

    Consultant

    This is John Warhurst in another Conversation piece, but it could well describe some recent contributions to this conversation:

    "The political year has been characterised by many commentators as a grisly one, full of aggressive personal abuse and character assassination. A prime example was the vituperative final week of parliamentary sitting..."

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