Worthless at best, ‘ex-gay’ programs gain ground

New ‘ex-gay’ therapy programs are popping up, despite scientific consensus that they don’t work and often are harmful.

Controversial London bus ads
Controversial London bus ads. Top image: Rejected ad for ex-gay therapy. Bottom image: Earlier pro-gay ad on London bus.

The world is gaining new projects aimed at turning gays straight, despite a broad consensus in the scientific and medical communities that such efforts are worthless at best and often are emotionally damaging to people who turn to them for help.

Among the latest reparative therapy “ex-gay” initiatives are programs in Botswana and Malaysia, which join dozens of similar attempts elsewhere in the world.

Such programs play an important supporting role in the belief systems not only of religious opponents of homosexuality but also of advocates of 76 countries’ laws against homosexual behavior, who need to believe that homosexuality is a choice rather than an innate biological inclination. If they didn’t believe that homosexuals have simply made bad choices that can be corrected, anti-gay activists would have to face the fact that anti-LGBT laws and moral judgments condemn people for who they are, rather than for what they choose to do.

That is at least a partial explanation of why ex-gay programs continue to expand, even though repeated studies have found no reliable scientific evidence that they’re effective. A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center states about ex-gay projects supported by the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, and Focus on the Family:

Every major American medical authority has concluded that there is no scientific support for NARTH’s view, and many have expressed concern that reparative therapy can cause harm. Most strikingly, in 2006, the American Psychological Association (APA) stated: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” The APA added, “Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

Dr. Robert Spitzer. (Photo courtesy of YouTube)
Dr. Robert Spitzer. (Photo courtesy of YouTube)

In addition, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer recently retracted his 2001 report that concluded that “highly motivated” gay and lesbian people could change their sexual orientation.

Most recently, ex-gay programs have caused an uproar in London. As the Crosswalk religion website summarized:

London’s mayor has axed an ad campaign spearheaded by two conservative Christian groups because their ads said homosexuality was a disease that could be cured through prayer, the Religion News Service reports. The groups, Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream, who both fund reparative therapy for ex-gays, made posters reading “Post-gay and proud. Get over it!” — mimicking a recent campaign by the gay-rights group Stonewall, which used the line “Some people are gay. Get over it” — and had planned to put them on the sides of London’s iconic double-decker red buses beginning April 16.

However, mayor Boris Johnson stepped in to ban the ads. “It is clearly offensive to suggest being gay is an illness someone recovers from,” he said. “And I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.”

Meanwhile, Botswana has gained an ex-gay program, called Overcomers. The Sunday Standard in that African country reports that the project “”is geared towards rehabilitating the bisexuals, homosexuals, prostitutes and the intersexual (hormonal sex change).”

Lahil Baitlotli, who says he “he dumped the gay lifestyle for ‘a healthy normal life,’ ” was approached by church leaders to lead the program. They said that “his testimony could …be used to drive deliverance to those who are trapped in these dysfunctional lifestyles.”

In Botswana, homosexual behavior is punishable by prison sentences of up to seven years.

Similarly, Malaysia has launched a program to train counselors “to tackle the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) phenomenon in the country,” Sun Daily reported.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin

Announcing start-up funding 100,000 ringgits (about $33,000) for the project, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said an upsurge of “sexuality problems … threatens the integrity of the family institution.”

“The symptoms of sexual orientation disorder like LGBT, which was previously faced by the Western society are now faced in our society also,” he said at the launch of National Counselling, Education and Career Carnival and Improving Professional Counselling seminar at Universiti Putra Malaysia … .

Pointing out that this phenomenon went against the moral, religion and norms of the country, Muhyiddin said the problem should be tackled wisely.

“I believe that through an effective counselling approach, we will be able to curb this negative phenomenon from spreading in our community,” he said.

In Malaysia, homosexual behavior is punishable by prison sentences of up to 20 years.

For a comprehensive, personal look the point of view of a gay man who was almost driven to suicide by ex-gay therapy, read “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life” by journalist Gabriel Arana.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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