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UN Tackles Gay 'Conversion Therapy' For First Time

Health & Wellness  (tags: 'HUMANRIGHTS!', humanrights, HumanRights, world, UnitedNations, unitednations, usa, politics, society, GoodNews, ethics, children, freedoms, research, risks, safety, science, society, study, treatment, protection, warning, health, healthcare )

- 1956 days ago -
A panel of mental health experts, human rights advocates, religious leaders and a former patient gathered Thursday at the United Nations Church Center to discuss a controversial therapy that claims to "cure" gay people and make them straight.

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JL A (281)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 9:42 am
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UN Tackles Gay 'Conversion Therapy' For First Time

Posted: 02/01/2013 4:16 pm EST

A panel of mental health experts, human rights advocates, religious leaders and a former patient gathered Thursday at the United Nations Church Center to discuss a controversial therapy that claims to "cure" gay people and make them straight. Although such practices have been around for decades, the concept has come under increased scrutiny over the last five years as lawsuits and litigation attempt to curb the "conversion therapy" and the mainstream mental health profession renounces it.

The panel is the first at the U.N. to directly address this so-called therapy, sometimes referred to as sexual orientation change efforts. Those who organized the event said they hoped it would be the first of many similar conversations, and part of a larger push from the U.N. to address gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.

The panel was organized by Bruce Knotts, the director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, and Mordechai Levovitz, the LGBT advocacy coordinator there, both of whom are openly gay, and have had brushes with conversion therapy. For Knotts it happened in the late 80s, when he was working as a U.S. diplomat, and the Department of State sent him to a psychologist "who was supposed to make me straight," Knotts told the audience. "I was with him three times a week for a year, and I didn't notice any difference at all."

When Levovitz was 18, he reached out to an organization called Jews Offering New Alternatives To Healing (or JONAH), a counseling center that is now the target of a first-of-its-kind consumer fraud lawsuit. After two two-hour conversations, Levovitz decided the center wasn't for him. "I could tell right away that he was a snake oil salesman," he said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "But many of my friends did go, and some of my friends were very damaged and traumatized by it, and some of them weren't."

In addition to the New Jersey lawsuit, groundbreaking legislation passed last year in California banning licensed practitioners from performing the therapy on minors. But even as other states are considering similar legislation, a California court temporarily blocked the law after two lawsuits filed by Christian legal organizations took aim at it, arguing the law is unconstitutional.

Despite the increased scrutiny on this controversial therapy, there are no rigorous scientific studies that analyze it, and no reliable statistics that show how harmful, or helpful it can be. Anecdotal evidence on both sides abound. Chaim Levin, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against JONAH, described how "degraded and violated" he felt during and after his years of conversion therapy.

After Levin spoke, a letter was read from an ex-gay man who wrote that the therapy "saved my life." "Let's make sexual orientation change efforts better and more responsible, but please don't eliminate it," wrote the man, who asked that his name be withheld.

Mainstream mental health organizations, from the American Psychological Association -- where a 2009 task force found the practice to be both harmful and ineffective -- to the World Health Organization, have said there is no evidence that the practice works and have concluded that it may lead to depression, anxiety and even suicide. Meanwhile, the dwindling pool of supporters, nearly all connected with religious organizations, insist that change is possible for some people, and that those people who do wish to change should not be denied the opportunity.

Those gathered at the U.N. on Thursday were careful to stress that the point of the meeting was not a debate over the effectiveness of these "conversion" practices. "The other side tries to present it as if it's a debate," Jack Drescher, a psychoanalyst and a member of the American Psychiatric Association, told the crowd. But, Drescher added, there is no longer any real debate about this therapy among mental health professionals. The debate now, he said, is not clinical, but cultural.

And the harms of this practice, those on the panel all stressed, go far beyond any suffering an individual may experience in the therapy.

"The truth is we actually don't know why people are gay, or straight," Drescher said. "But polls tend to show that the more someone believes that sexual orientation is innate, the more likely they are to believe in civil rights [for gay people]." The goal of proponents, Drescher said, "is to dissuade someone from that view."

The panel began with a preview of an upcoming film about Uganda and the so-called "Kill The Gays" bill, a law that is currently sitting in that country's parliament and would impose harsh penalties on gay people. "The fact is that many people see that bill being born of the influence of Western evangelicals who came en masse to Uganda to spread the gospel, specifically the notion that LGBT people can change," Levovitz said as the discussion got underway Thursday.

Another panelist, Sam Wolfe, an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center who filed the lawsuit against JONAH, said that he has been focusing on conversion therapy for the past five years, because, "the anti-gay movement, in general, has really latched on to conversion therapy."

That wasn't always the case. The idea of a gay cure goes back to a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness and "sodomy" a crime. In the middle of the 20th century, the idea of psychiatric treatment for homosexuality was seen as a humane alternative to institutionalization or jail. In the '70s, the American Psychiatric Institution removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, and most psychiatrists and psychologists soon abandoned the practice of conversion therapy. Around the same time, though, Christian groups like Exodus International picked up where mainstream therapists had left off.

Recently, some leaders of the self-described ex-gay movement have expressed doubts. Last June, the head of Exodus International declared at its annual meeting that there was no cure for homosexuality and that the promise of one offered false hope to gays. But soon after this declaration, a group broke off from Exodus to form a new group. "I am feeling inexpressible joy that the Lord has brought together a group of people who will not allow the message of hope and change to die in a sea of misguided social/cultural relevance," Frank Worthen, one of the new group's leaders, and a founding member of Exodus, said in a press release last summer.

"The idea is that gay people are somehow broken, that we need to be fixed," Wolfe said. "You can see the line of reasoning: therefore we're not entitled to equality under the law and we're not due equal respect and to be treated well," Wolfe, who described himself as a "survivor" of conversion therapy, explained.

"What we're really talking about here is creating a world and a society where sexual orientation change efforts are looked upon as as ridiculous for LGBT people as they are for a heterosexual person," said Toiko Kleppe, a representative of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "That is also a world that human rights law is in favor of."

After the panel, a group of young gay men hung around and chatted. Mathew Shurka, a former client at JONAH who is now openly gay, said he thought the discussion was "amazing."

"It's really exciting to meet everyone here and see this whole community," Shurka, who is 24, said, smiling. "Being in the therapy, you don't really know anything about being gay."

Tamara Hayes (185)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 9:47 am
It makes me sick to think of all of the people who have been subjected to this heinous 'treatment". This world so needs to buy a clue. Thanks J.L.

Linda R (17)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 10:16 am
To think there are people out there that believe that being gay means your broken. This is absurd! I am a straight woman with a gay step-child and we NEVER thought of her as being broken! I love her for who she is and dont define her by her sexual preference. We need to start looking at each other as just human beings till then people are going to keep coming up with crap like this.

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 11:41 am
You cannot currently send a star to Linda because you have done so within the last week.

Angelika R (143)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 1:06 pm
good article, thx Jl - glad the UN finally took a step to address this topic. There was no mention about the Bachmann clinic, do I remember correctly that her husband was running one of those idiotic conversion places?

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 1:23 pm
You're welcome Angelika. My memory indicates he did and maybe still does--I remember someone went undercover to verify he still was doing so about a year ago. You cannot currently send a star to Angelika because you have done so within the last week.

Kit B (276)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 7:46 pm

I think there was more to Mr Bachmann's clinic than meets the eye. Isn't this a bit like converting a woman into a man without the surgery or drugs? We are what we are, and some are LGBT and some are not. A statement from the UN condemning such thinking might be helpful, but religious fanatics and homophobes are that fringe that will always be with us. Some hate Catholics, they don't know why, but they do, some hate Jews, they killed Jesus or so the story goes. Some hate blacks or any one that is different. Can't convert them to healthy thinking either.

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 7:53 pm
You could well be right Kit. I'd like to believe we can find a cure for hate. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.

jo M. (3)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 10:20 pm
In light of all the serious problems the world has, I have to wonder why the UN would bother to address this issue.

John B (185)
Thursday February 7, 2013, 5:00 am
Thanks J.L. for the post. Gay "Conversion Therapy" harkens back to the days of snake oil salesmen and their crackpot cures. Read and noted.

JL A (281)
Thursday February 7, 2013, 7:23 am
The UN is addressing this issue because CT represents a serious human rights violation--which most consider a serious world problem.
You are welcome John.You cannot currently send a star to John because you have done so within the last week.

Past Member (0)
Friday February 8, 2013, 8:26 am
About time. What kind of an idiot would do something like this?

Sadie W (1)
Friday February 8, 2013, 11:25 am
I still don't see how conversion therapy is any different than attempts to cure mental illnesses with lobotomies... It does nothing other than harm.

JL A (281)
Friday February 8, 2013, 11:43 am
You cannot currently send a star to Roger because you have done so within the last week.

. (0)
Friday February 8, 2013, 4:05 pm
This is the garbage that is discussed in the UN? I think it's time to re-read why the UN was created.

JL A (281)
Friday February 8, 2013, 4:14 pm
Human rights violations such as this so-called treatment inflicts are not 'garbage' to those who value human rights.

Birgit W (160)
Friday February 8, 2013, 4:19 pm

JL A (281)
Friday February 8, 2013, 5:19 pm
You are welcome Birgit

Winnie A (179)
Friday February 8, 2013, 6:54 pm
Being gay doesn't need "fixing" of any kind. Some people are straight and some people are gay and that's okay. Let's celebrate our differences, all of them.

jo M. (3)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 1:35 am
Sorry, but the UN can't even solve truly serious issues.

Ro H (0)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 6:41 am
What is straight?

JL A (281)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 8:01 am
The UN has addressed more global issues better than any other model of action to date--many which have been among the most serious, like maternal and infant mortality. One supports what is working and works to improve effectiveness (UNICEF does incredibly effective work for serious children's issues).
Ro, usually people mean heterosexual when they use the slang term straight.

Ro H (0)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 1:10 pm
I was being sarcastic, but thanks for getting back to me.

Lois Jordan (63)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 1:28 pm
Noted. So, isn't "conversion therapy" just another term for brainwashing?.....which is defined as, "intensive indoctrination to change a person's convictions radically." Being gay is not a "conviction." I'm glad the UN had this panel; the more multi-country organizations we have supporting and promoting human rights, the better. Might be interesting to find out if the U.N. already has a statement regarding "brainwashing" though.

JL A (281)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 3:27 pm
So sorry I misunderstood Ro! You cannot currently send a star to Lois because you have done so within the last week.

Mike S (86)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 5:35 pm
Thanks for this important story J.L. A. It's good to see the U.N. finally trying to do something about this.

JL A (281)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 6:25 pm
You are welcome Mike!

greenplanet e (155)
Sunday February 10, 2013, 5:59 pm
Some people are gay, some animals may even be gay at times. That's just the way it is.

JL A (281)
Sunday February 10, 2013, 6:06 pm
You cannot currently send a star to greenplanet because you have done so within the last week.

DaleLovesOttawa O (198)
Monday February 11, 2013, 9:14 pm
A frightening and adversarial noxious potion. People are people, let the zealots vanish and leave people alone.

JL A (281)
Monday February 11, 2013, 9:20 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Dale because you have done so within the last week.

Robert O (12)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 12:38 am

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 8:29 am
You are welcome Robert.
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