On Friday, June 27, it was my privilege to join a number of former homosexuals and other “everstraight” allies like me in testifying against a bill to ban sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) for minors in the District of Columbia.
The politically correct mental health establishment turned out in force, with representatives of a variety of professional organizations voicing support for the bill, which would actually function by denying licensing as a mental health provider to anyone who helps minors overcome unwanted same-sex attractions. And all but one of the thirteen members of DC’s City Council has co-sponsored Bill 20-501, so it might seem as though the bill would be sure to pass.
Advocates of the measure who assumed it was on a fast track may have to think again after Friday’s hearing, though. Although defenders of therapeutic freedom were in the minority, we did bring forward eleven strong witnesses -- eight of whom are themselves ex-gays, therapists, or clients who are currently in the change process. It takes great courage for such people to “out” themselves as ex-gay, given that typical reactions rage from skepticism to incredulity to outright vilification. Few things can challenge the unfounded conviction that “people are born gay and can never change” better than a face-to-face encounter with someone who has changed.
In contrast to the eight first-person testimonies against the bill, bill supporters had only one witness who claimed to have personally experienced (unsuccessful) reorientation therapy -- Sam Wolfe of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a wealthy leftist political organization best known for slandering conservative organizations as “hate groups.” (Floyd Corkins, who came to Family Research Council headquarters on August 15, 2012 intent on mass murder and shot and seriously wounded my colleague Leo Johnson, told the FBI that he chose FRC and other targets by looking at the “hate map” on the SPLC website.)
Wolfe reported going “undercover” at a seminar sponsored by the International Healing Foundation -- whose director, ex-gay Christopher Doyle, was in the audience as a witness against the bill. (Later in the hearing, Wolfe was scolded to his face by an ex-gay witness, Chuck, for having violated confidences by writing publicly about private and personal conversations he had with him at the conference.)
Encouraging, in a back-handed sort of way, was the apparent disinterest of the DC Council members in this topic. The Committee on Health has five members, but only the chairman, Yvette Alexander, was present for the whole hearing. Even the sponsor of the bill, Mary Cheh, failed to make an appearance -- not even to give a three-minute testimony like the rest of us (Cheh is not a member of the Health Committee, and she did have a staffer present to monitor the entire hearing.) It appeared one other member sent a staffer for only part of the hearing. Local media also ignored the hearing with only the “gay” media and a crew from CBN News showing up.
The only other actual Councilmember to show up at all was the openly “gay” David Catania, who is currently an Independent candidate waging a long-shot campaign for mayor. Catania only stayed for about ten minutes, but that was plenty of time for him to make a negative impression.
One point that many advocates made is that SOCE is based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental illness -- a position that was abandoned by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, in response to a campaign of intellectual terrorism undertaken by a small but zealous band of homosexual activists within the organization. Strictly speaking, however, this claim by SOCE critics is untrue. The more fundamental premise of SOCE is the undeniable and observable fact that some people who experience same-sex attractions experience them as something unwanted.
Therefore, no premise is needed to justify SOCE beyond the long-established ethical principle in counseling that the client -- not the therapist -- has the right to establish the goals for therapy.
While none of the witnesses against the proposed ban claimed that all homosexuals are mentally ill, Councilman Catania did not hesitate to declare that all of us -- therapy clients and straight allies alike -- are mentally ill.
Those with same-sex attractions who seek sexual reorientation therapy to overcome those attractions are, according to Catania (who is not a mental health professional), suffering from the “illness” of “internalized hatred,” a condition which causes them to “deny who they are” and “seek to be something they are not.”
Heterosexuals who support the freedom of homosexuals to choose to seek change, on the other hand, suffer from the “illness” of “internalized superiority.” This condition causes them to believe “they are superior to us who are LGBTQ.” In a remarkable display of unqualified psychotherapy of people he has never met, Catania declared, “If you take that superiority away from them, what is left? An emptiness, a void, a profound sadness.”
The low point of Catania’s shameful performance, however, came when he decided to browbeat one of the youngest witnesses at the hearing, a man in his mid-20’s named Nathan who is a current client of IHF. Nathan did not claim to be “cured” of homosexuality, admitting honestly that he is a “work in progress.” Catania wanted to know if Nathan felt “shame, guilty, inadequacy, and inferiority as a teenager, and asked, “What other than self-hate makes you want to change?”
Catania appeared to be fishing for an answer related to religion, family shaming, or a belief that homosexuality is a mental illness, in order to mount an attack. Nathan, however, did not take the bait, insisting calmly that “personal dissatisfaction with two years in the gay lifestyle” was the only reason he made the free choice to seek therapy. At one point Christopher Doyle of IHF became so disgusted that he interrupted Catania’s interrogation saying, “I find this whole line of questioning offensive;” whereupon Catania snapped, “We ask the questions!” Catania left shortly thereafter, without asking any questions of any of the professional therapists opposing the bill.
Chairman Alexander is a co-sponsor of the therapy ban, but in her questioning of the witnesses she betrayed such a naïve ignorance of the entire subject that she ended up playing devil’s advocate toward both sides. For example, the bill bars SOCE for anyone under age 18, but Alexander asked more than once how that could be squared with the fact that the legal “age of consent” for sexual relations is only 16. Advocates of the bill stammered to find an answer. She also reacted to the testimony by several of the ex-gay witnesses that they had been sexually abused as children, voicing the politically incorrect speculation that for those people, at least, homosexuality might not be biologically determined.
David Pickup, an ex-gay who is a licensed therapist, spoke of having been sexually abused at the age of five, and warned that the bill would make it illegal to help a heterosexual boy reduce homosexual feelings perpetrated by sexual abuse. This left the mental health representatives who support the bill scrambling to explain that it would not prevent therapy for sexual abuse, while failing to explain how the therapist would dance around the question of whether such abuse contributed to same-sex attractions.
In my own testimony, I focused on research by the nation’s leading expert on homosexual teenagers showing how fluid teen sexuality can be. In one major survey, of the adolescent boys who identified themselves as exclusively homosexual one year, only 11% continued to identify as exclusively homosexual just one year later, and nearly half had become exclusively heterosexual.
During questioning, I also had the opportunity to clarify some misunderstood points about SOCE. One involved the terminology itself -- “sexual orientation change efforts” is the broadest term, including religious interventions as well as professional therapy; “sexual reorientation therapy” is a general term for a variety of therapies; and “reparative therapy” is actually a particular therapeutic approach (most closely associated with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi). “Reparative therapy,” in turn, is not based on the theory that homosexuals are “broken” and must be “repaired,” as most assume. It is based instead on a belief that homosexuality itself is a “reparative” drive which springs from other underlying hurts. If those underlying issues (not directly related to “sexual orientation”) can be relieved by other means in therapy, then the “need” for homosexuality goes away, and with it the same-sex attractions.
I also emphasized how unprecedented it is until now for any form of mental health treatment to be forbidden by law merely because of the goal toward which the treatment is directed (as opposed to the particular technique). This is a direct violation of the ethical principle of the client’s autonomy to determine the goal of therapy.
Notwithstanding the large number of co-sponsors for the DC bill, it is to be hoped that the strong showing by opponents of the measure will lead it to die a quiet death -- like in most of the other states where such bills have been introduced in the last year.