Spain’s largest department store is facing boycotts and serious condemnation for stocking a number of children’s books that say you can cure homosexuality. Does this fall under free speech or can we agree that imposing ex-gay quackery on children should be prohibited?
The store, El Corte Inglés, has faced a year of protests from LGBT groups in Spain because it refuses to remove titles by American ex-gay enthusiast Joseph Nicolosi, most notable for his work with the ex-gay group NARTH. Among other things, the books purport to help parents rid their children of homosexuality. They include, “I Want to Stop Being Gay,” “How to Prevent Homosexuality” and “Gender Confusion in Childhood.”
So far the retailer has refused to budge on the issue, reportedly saying that while it may not condone the messages within the books, they are in stores as a matter of free enterprise and speech.
Local activist Mariano Vilar believes that the store is refusing to properly engage with this issue, saying, “I wouldn’t even call it a book. I would call it libel. It’s something dirty and denigrating,” he said. “This type of publication does a lot of harm, more than you can imagine. They’re speaking about homosexuality as if it were a disease.”
He believes that the books would be pulled if they were seen to encourage terrorism or things like eating disorders such as or anorexia, yet on the topic of homosexuality, the store seems to believe it must defer to freedom of expression.
As noted above, the books are written by Joseph Nicolosi, an American psychologist and co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, whose brand of “reparative therapy” has slowly softened over the years to appear more cuddly and more focused on “diminishing unwanted same-sex attraction” rather than overtly attacking homosexuality as it used to. NARTH has almost disappeared from public discourse after various scandals relating to racism, appearing to advocate abuse against gender variant children and various sex scandals. Nicolosi, however, continues to be one of the few prominent faces of the ex-gay industry.
To give you an idea of exactly the approach in these texts, here is an excerpt from A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality,which, though not listed as the exact title being sold in Spanish stores, appears to share much of the same approach as it is based on Nicolosi’s work:
Gloria, seated in the easy chair next to her husband, looked at me with sad, worried eyes. “By the time I was pregnant with Jimmy,” she said quietly, “I wanted a girl so badly. Jimmy was to be our last child. When he was born, I was disappointed to tears.”
A caring and gentle boy who showed a gift for playing the piano, Jimmy was the kind of child who is naturally attuned to what other people are thinking and feeling. By this age, he could read his mother’s moods “like a book,” but had not a single male friend his age. In fact, he was already showing many signs of pre-homosexual behavior. Gloria had recently become concerned about the boy’s increasing social isolation and depression. In contrast, their older boys were happy and well-adjusted.
Jimmy’s gender confusion had first become noticeable years before, when he started putting on his grandmother’s earrings and trying on her makeup. Gloria’s gold and silver hair barrettes had been especially captivating for the little boy, and he soon developed quite an astute sense of what he liked and didn’t like about women’s clothing — all this before he ever started school. He was just four years old at that time.
Now, having grown older, Jimmy was presenting many other troublesome signs — an over-active imagination that he used as a substitute for human relationships; immaturity, and contemptuous rejection of his athletic older brothers and the friends they brought home. Gordon recalled that their others ons [sic] always had rushed out to meet him when he arrived home from work. But not Jimmy, who had always acted as though his dad was unimportant.
Nicolosi’s cure? Making Jimmy engage in more manly pursuits with his father and other male authority figures which, the book says, led to a gradual decrease in Jimmy’s “gender inappropriate behavior,” his “effeminacy” and his “rejection” of his father. This is classic Nicolosi, who continues to pedal the so-called “triadic relationship” flaw that leads to homosexuality: an overbearing mother, a distant father and a sensitive child.
Nicolosi’s work has been palatable to many on the ex-gay advocacy side because it claims to be entirely secular. While true that there is little to no talk of God, one cannot help but read the heavy emphasis on religiously defined gender roles (particularly the adoration of the father), and the strict view that heterosexuality is best and the preponderance to misread science in order to bolster that view.
Needless to say, that’s out of step with every major medical body that has found that homosexuality is a normal if less common expression of sexuality and that homosexuality of itself causes absolutely no harm — it is only societal stigma and learned self hatred that presents emotional distress for gay people. The proper therapy, then, is to affirm someone’s homosexuality and not to convince them that change is possible — a claim that has never been proved and of which there is quite a bit of science to say that actually sexuality is for most people fixed.
The ex-gay industry and Nicolosi in particular harp that they only support therapy, and we’re being generous in calling it that, if it is what the client wants. By Nicolosi’s own standard, then, subjecting children to this kind of therapy is wrong. A child cannot choose.
I’ve previously talked about how I do not believe Amazon or any online or brick and mortar retailer for that matter should remove anti-gay literature that is aimed at adults — though I do think that ensuring it is in the correct section and given the correct label, say religious belief and not science, medicine or psychology, isn’t too much to ask.
As I have said before, we are afforded space to review books, particularly in online forums, and it is enough to comment on them and to tell people what they need to know about these so-called “gay cure” books.
Yet, when it comes to children, I think we can all agree the weight of the problem is different and a line is crossed. This isn’t a mater of “If you don’t like it, don’t read it.” The parents who try to force their children to squash their homosexuality give their children no kind of choice, and it can be incredibly damaging.
While the long term effects of exposure to ex-gay therapy is currently unknown to science, we have a great deal of anecdotal evidence that says ex-gay therapy can be and usually is harmful, and we have a significant body of scientific evidence that homophobia, which underpins most if not all ex-gay therapy because otherwise why would you be forcing your child to change, is damaging to children and can cause lasting mental health issues.
As such, not only should El Corte Inglés cease selling these and all ex-gay therapy books that are aimed at children or for parents to use on children, so should online retailers too — and that’s not censorship, it’s taking care of our children until they are old enough to decide for themselves who they are, what they believe, and how they want to express themselves.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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