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Religious Tolerance logo

Part 2

1994 to 1998: Trying to Convert Gays to
heterosexuals using Reparative Therapy

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This topic continues here from the previous essay

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Developments during 1994 (Continued):

A RealAudio recording of a reparative therapy report by Rick Karr of National Public Radio at the APA 1997 convention is available. 2

A 1994 resolution was defeated by the American Psychiatry Association membership. It would have branded therapists engaged in reparative therapy as following unethical practice. A similar resolution was defeated by the American Psychological Association in 1995. However, the latter group overwhelmingly passed a resolution on 1997-AUG-14 which stopped just short of calling this form of therapy unethical.

Doug Haldeman, president of the APA's Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues helped to write the resolution. He said

"In the past 10 years, Christian fundamentalists have enlisted a coalition of old-style psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers who have become very visible in this country and internationally, and who have as a mission to 'help' homosexuals get rid of their sexual orientation... Our aim is not to try to stop them per se or interfere with anyone's right to practice [therapy] but we want to expose the social context that creates this market."

APA officials were concerned that some who enter therapy are being coerced by their families, employers, church members etc.

The APA resolution asks that the therapist obtains "informed consent" from the client. This includes:

  1. A full discussion of the client's potential for happiness as a homosexual,

  2. Communication to the client that there is no sound scientific evidence that the therapy works,

  3. Raising the possibility that therapy may exacerbate the client's problems, and

  4. An analysis of the client's true motivation for wanting to change.

The APA resolution received the expected condemnation from evangelical Christian groups and the anticipated positive support from at least one LGBT civil rights group.

C.W. Socarides, a spokesperson for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), commented on the resolution. NARTH is a small group which promotes the use of reparative therapy. He said:

"Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it. ... It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society."

NARTH complained that the resolution infringed on the rights of therapists, that it was passed without due process, and that an open hearing should have been conducted in which NARTH and other organizations could have participated. They would like the APA to attempt to correct what they feel is the

"... very widely disseminated, popular misconception that homosexuality is genetic."

Webmaster's comment: [bias alert]:

For decades, researchers have searched for a "gay gene" or group of "gay genes" that was the ultimate cause of homosexual orientation. They had little success. Many religious conservatives concluded that the cause is not genetic. They have noted that gays tend to not have many children. They concluded that if a homosexual orientation were genetic then, over many generations, one would expect the percentage of gays to decrease towards zero. This has clearly not happened. However, it has been determined that close female relatives to gays tend to have more children, thus counteracting the effect of gays having fewer children.

In recent years, epigenetics have been studied as a cause of homosexuality. It is a type of layer on top of a person's genes that controls their expression. It is unchanged from a person's conception, to their birth, and throughout their life until death. Markers on the epigenetic layer have been found that correlate with a homosexual orientation among males. A measuring technique has been developed that measures epigenetic factors and predicts with 83% accuracy which males have a homosexual orientation in adulthood. These studies have concluded that a homosexual orientation is caused by epigenetics before birth, not genetics before birth or environmental factors after birth.

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The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) adopted a policy statement on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. It states, in part:

"Social stigmatization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people is widespread and is a primary motivating factor in leading some people to seek sexual orientation changes. Sexual orientation conversion therapies assume that homosexual orientation is both pathological and freely chosen. No data demonstrate that reparative or conversion therapies are effective, and in fact they may be harmful. NASW believes social workers have the responsibility to clients to explain the prevailing knowledge concerning sexual orientation and the lack of data reporting positive outcomes with reparative therapy. NASW discourages social workers from providing treatments designed to change sexual orientation or from referring practitioners or programs that claim to do so. 3

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On 1997-JAN-9, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial in support of reparative therapy, called "Don't forsake homosexuals who want help." A flood of highly critical letters to the editor resulted, from psychiatrists, sociologists, LGBT associations, and individual gays and lesbians. 4

The American Psychological Association overwhelmingly passed a resolution  on 1997-AUG-14, directed against reparative therapy and affirming a number of basic principles when accepting homosexual or bisexual clients. these include:

bullet that homosexuality is not a mental disorder;

bullet that psychologists do not "knowingly participate in or condone discriminatory practices with lesbian, gay and bisexual clients;"

bullet "Psychologists respect the rights of individuals, including lesbian, gay and bisexual clients, to privacy, confidentiality, self-determination and autonomy;"

bullet "Psychologists obtain appropriate, informed, and prior consent to therapy in their work with lesbian, gay and bisexual clients."

Their resolution concluded:

"...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." 5

By way of contrast, as of 1997, the Chinese Psychiatric Association still classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Most professional therapists in that country regard sexual orientation as a curable illness. Sometimes, electric shock treatments are used in a futile attempt to convert gays and lesbians to heterosexuality. The Association changed their description of homosexuality in the year 2000.

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In 1998-MAR, the Governing Council of the American Counseling Association (ACA) approved a motion that the 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, mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about same-gender orientation."

Many counselors and therapists who worked in reparative therapy at the time perceived homosexuality as an mental illness or disorder. The ACA's Southern Region asked that the resolution be modified to acknowledge that counselors possess freedom of conscience and hold divergent religious views. Apparently, some ACA members attempted to help clients change their sexual orientation through reparative therapy, and they were concerned that gays or gay rights groups could use any statement by the ACA to launch lawsuits against them. Also, some counselors were affiliated with religious denominations which condemn homosexuality as a sin. Those ACA members were concerned that their Association holds a position that, in effect, condemns their religious beliefs.

During 1998-SEPT, the ACA Advisory Council discussed resolutions from the Southern and Western regions to rescind or modify the March motion. These resolutions were rejected by a 17 to 4 vote. Robert Mate, a counselor in the office of the dean of students at Purdue University, and co-advisor of the LesBiGay Network on campus, said:

"Many times, religion is used to justify hatred and discriminatory practices against gays. If mental health professionals are using their own religious beliefs to justify efforts to change sexual orientation, that, in itself, is a horrible ethical violation."

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Image downloaded from Pixabay; (CC0 Public Domain).
  2. Rick Karr, "Gay Cure Controversy," NPR 1997-AUG-14, RealAudio recording at:
  3. "Policy Statement: Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues." Approved by Delegate Assembly, NASW, 1996-AUG. Published in Social Work Speaks, 4th ed., NASW, 1997.
  4. "Letters to the editor: Homosexuality doesn't need a 'cure'," Wall Street Journal, 1997-JAN-23. See: 
  5. M.S. Katz, "American Psychiatric Association rebukes reparative therapy," APA, 1998-DEC-14. Text and news release on line at:

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Copyright © 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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