Last Thursday, Headstrong and PRIDE held a panel on conversion therapy. Several panelists discussed the history and practice of the therapy, the spiritual and legalistic approach and one student’s experience with conversion therapy.
The panelists in attendance were Dr. Jan Wilson, an associate professor of history at TU, Reverend Freeman, minister at College Hill Presbyterian, Dr. Joanne Davis, co-director of the University of Tulsa Institute for Trauma Adversity and Injustice, Alyssa Bryant, a lawyer, and Roman Ross, a student who underwent conversion therapy. It was moderated by Jim Scholls, a graduate student at TU.
While PRIDE and Headstrong are both supported by United Campus Ministries at TU, Tara Grigson, president of PRIDE, said they hosted the event to highlight that “not all [Christians] support bigotry or conversion.” The event was also necessary, she added, as a number of bills in the Oklahoma State legislature this session would potentially harm LGBT+, especially the youth.
In Oklahoma, there is no law specifically banning conversion therapy, although Bryant says that the practice has an extreme amount of liability associated with it. In New Jersey, some practices have been sued for fraud.
Currently, conversion therapy is not supported by most professional mental health organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association.
These organizations do not see scientific justification for the therapy. The therapy also fails to achieve its desired results, and “shows a basic disregard and lack of respect for normal human differences,” according to Dr. Davis. Not a lot of research has been done around conversion therapy because of ethical issues.
Dr. Davis said that the evidence in existence shows very rare instances where very short term decreases in same sex attraction and very short term increases in opposite sex attraction occurred. More typical is an overall loss of sexual attraction, and depression and increase in suicidal tendencies are common.
To stop conversion therapy, Dr. Davis believes educating parents on the potential harm is essential, as “many don’t realize it is harmful.” Rev. Freeman added, “[conversion therapy] is not what God wants, that’s what the church has told them.”
“If you need dental work, you don’t go to a plumber,” Ross said, yet most conversion therapy is done not by mental health professionals, but clergy or others not trained in these sensitive issues.
Ross was taken to a clergy member by his parents, who wanted to “get him help” for his sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ross differentiated between conversion and reparative therapy, saying conversion therapy was something that happened to you, while reparative therapy was you seeking help for what you perceive to be wrong. While he initially welcomed the counseling provided by the clergy, he quickly grew to dislike it.
“I was asked a lot of invasive personal questions,” he said of one experience, “in detail about what I was attracted to and disgusted by.” One of his most vivid experiences was when a woman told him, “you know we can’t use pictures but I almost wish we could,” in reference to discovering his likes and dislikes.
From a religious perspective, Rev. Freeman said “there is nothing to revert or repair.” He questioned what type of god would force sexuality on someone, which they could not change, and then deem the sexuality a sin.
According to Rev. Freeman, “organized religion has always been obsessed with power and control over people,” and deeming homosexuality a sin has given them continuing control over people.
“If God is love, and two people love each other, then God is there,” he added.
Dr. Wilson briefly explored views on homosexuality and the history of conversion therapy.
Over the years, various “treatments” were tried on homosexuals, from electroshock to aversion therapy.
In the 1970s, groups like Exodus began to emerge, which promised a spiritual solution, through support groups, arranged dates, and other methods. Some of these groups, like Exodus, have since closed or been forced to move.
For those interested in further exploring the bible and its views on homosexuality, Rev. Dr. Lisa Davison, of the Phillips Theological Seminary, will be speaking on this topic later this month.