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Richard Socarides, Son of the Founder of Conversion Therapy, on Coming Out to His Dad

Posted: 04/08/2013 12:52 pm

While everyone's coming out story is different, Richard Socarides's might be one of the most unique. Richard, who served as President Clinton's senior adviser on gay rights and who is today a prominent attorney, writer and commentator, explains his coming out experience in his 20s:

[My father] was the founder, or one of the founders, of the school of psychiatry that believed homosexuality was a mental illness and that it could be cured through psychotherapy... [H]is idea was they should be treated like any other neurotic. Couple of trips to a therapist and it should be just fine.

Dr. Charles Socarides didn't just believe that homosexuality could be cured, he was one of the most sought-after therapists for people who wanted to become straight. And for Richard, that hit a little too close to home:

We lived on the Upper East Side on 78th Street in a townhouse and his office was downstairs. So on the top level there was this kid coming out, and on this bottom level there were these people going to be cured of their homosexuality.

In his 20s, at the insistence of his sister and his therapist, Richard decided it was time to tell the very man who is known for curing gay people that his own son is gay.

I sat down and said, 'Dad, I think this is something we've known for some time together, but I'm gay and we have to find a way to be more honest with each other about this.' He was angry, but he certainly wasn't surprised and angry, and he was kind of a little surprised. So I kind of said I'm going to give you some time to think about it, to take this one, and I left. It did not last a long time and it did not have a good ending, at that moment.

After a few months of no contact, Richard's father wrote a four-page handwritten note apologizing for the way he acted and explaining that he just wants Richard to be happy. But things between father and son never fully improved.

Now, that was a great moment, the letter was a great moment, but it was not always that easy going forward because he did not change what he was saying publicly about the treatment and cure of homosexuality.

I'm From Driftwood is a 501(c)(3) non-profit forum for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer stories, with a mission of promoting understanding, acceptance, empathy, and belonging.

 

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