Friday, August 14, 2009

You can’t pray gay away

By Andy Birkey

The world’s largest professional association for psychologists released a report last week criticizing attempts to turn gay people straight. The American Psychological Association (APA) found that such efforts — variously called reparative therapies, sexual orientation change plans or “ex-gay” movements — typically demonize the “homosexual lifestyle” and use religious programming to “change” a person’s sexual orientation. In Minnesota, there are at least three such organizations working to alter people’s sexual orientation.

The APA’s report, “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation,” (pdf) found that change therapies, both religious and secular, failed to change clients’ sexual orientation — and in some cases caused further harm. It also concluded that religion is a strong factor in individuals’ difficulty with being gay or lesbian and that therapists should work to help people reconcile their sexual orientation and religion.

“Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose,” said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force that released the report, in a statement. “Contrary to the claims of [sexual orientation change effort] practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions.”

Glassgold acknowledged in an interview with the Associated Press that religion can be a strong motivator for gays and lesbians to want to change their sexual orientation.

“There’s no evidence to say that change therapies work, but these vulnerable people are tempted to try them, and when they don’t work, they feel doubly terrified,” Glassgold said. “You should be honest with people and say, ‘This is not likely to change your sexual orientation, but we can help explore what options you have.’”

One ministry in Minneapolis which works with “ex-gays” acknowledges that some people cannot change — even if they want to. Dave Rasmussen, co-director of Simon Ministries, says their operation doesn’t do change therapy but merely exists to provide support for “married men who have unwanted same-sex attractions.” His wife runs a similar group for women.

“I don’t feel compelled to tell these men they need to change, and I am honest with them and say up front that some of their marriages may end in divorce and some will go into the lifestyle.”

“Our group time is for encouragement, understanding, prayer and to draw closer to God. Through intimacy with Him sometimes change does happen. I have seen it,” he said. “Sometimes it does not.”

Two other religiously affiliated “ex-gay” programs, Outpost Ministries in Robbinsdale and UpStream Ministries in St. Cloud, did not respond to a request for comment.

The former has an interesting past. Jeffrey Ford, Outpost Ministries’ director for most of the 1980s, has since renounced change therapy and spoken out about the harms associated with it. A therapist living in Minneapolis with his partner Kent, he recounts his struggles as Outpost’s director:

Even as a married man and director of an ex-gay ministry, I privately struggled with temptations. Unless you’ve been there, it is hard to explain how you can call yourself ex-gay and still have strong homosexual feelings. The denial is supported and encouraged by all those around you. You are taught that to be “tempted” has nothing to do with orientation. You take on Christ’s identity and can honestly say that, in Christ, I am whole and complete and heterosexual.

It became clear to me that I was living and perpetrating a lie. I knew that, for me, the road less traveled involved accepting that I was not a former homosexual and that I needed to resign my position with OUTPOST.

The APA report concluded that such therapies as those practiced by Outpost can be dangerous.

“[S]tudies … indicate that attempts to change sexual orientation may cause or exacerbate distress and poor mental health in some individuals, including depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Glassgold said that it is important that clients know that.

“[W]e recommend that psychologists be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality.”
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