Imagine this: you're a confused teenager growing up, fostered by social pressures that dictate who you should be, what you should do and who you should be with. You see others bullied for being gay, taunted as if they didn't deserve the same love and are ashamed of your feelings. Instead of working to accept yourself and build the community's tolerance, you're encouraged to partake in "reparative therapy" for homosexuality, or gay conversion.
Just last week, New Jersey became the second state, after California, to sign a ban on therapy that claims to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. Prior to the ban that was signed into the state's legislature, gay conversion therapy was already facing legal challenges in New Jersey when clients of the counseling group JONAH were suing the organization for deceptive practices. JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (and formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), is dedicated to "healing" people who are gay by helping individuals tackle and overcome "unwanted same-sex sexual attractions." Take a look at coverage on New Jersey's ban in its early stages above.
Clients paid thousands of dollars for reparative therapy that amounted to enforced self-hate and uncomfortable exercises. Michael Ferguson, a conversion therapy survivor and plaintiff in the aforementioned lawsuit, said of JONAH, "They play blindly with deep emotions and create an immense amount of self-doubt for the client. They seize on your personal vulnerability, and tell you that being gay is synonymous with being less of a man. They further misrepresent themselves as having the key to your new orientation."
How practices like these, which masquerade under the term of "therapy," are condoned is beyond me. Not only do they not achieve their intended purposes of turning gay people straight, but also they're also potentially harmful. Treating people's innate feelings like symptoms of some rare, taboo mental illness multiplies the feelings of shame and intolerance that they were running from in the first place; what's more, that shame is being exploited for a profit.
By now, you can probably tell that my opinions on the matter call to the other 48 states to follow suit with New Jersey and California.
So, what is the public reaction to these bans, increasing intolerance of JONAH, and others who encourage this kind of "reparative therapy"? There are some surprisingly mixed opinions. Both the New York Post and USA Today published Op-Ed pieces looking down upon the legal action being taken, supporting JONAH and gay conversion therapy.
In the New York Post piece, Jeff Bennion, co-founder of the Mormon, "ex-gay" organization North Star International, scolded the New Jersey fraud lawsuit against JONAH. Bennion, who claims to have been "helped" by conversion therapy of sorts, shared how sexual orientation change efforts changed his life by letting him confront his shame and learn how to better relate to other men. In the USA Today article, Nicholas Cummings, chief psychologist at Kaiser Permanente from 1959 to 1979 and at the American Psychological Association from 1979 to 1980, boasted his personal success rate with the "reorientation" of many patients while at Kaiser and that hundreds saw "satisfactory outcomes."
And now this brings me to another set of questions. What is the role of Op-Ed in a publication? Are there limits? When I first read the two pieces defending gay conversion therapy, I was pretty shocked to see them appear in reputable newspapers like the New York Post and USA Today but wasn't sure why. I am by no means saying that newspapers shouldn't publish different opinions on a host of different issues like gay rights; that is in fact what diversifies the section. But these specific posts, taken into consideration within context of who wrote them, seem particularly unfitting. It appears that the increasing popularity of gay conversion therapy would lend to the increasing popularity, and possibly profit, of Jeff Bennion's organization as well as to Nicholas Cummings' reputation. Nicholas Cummings' piece further surprised me when I learned that the American Psychological Association, which he led for two years, released a statement with scientific backing condemning professionals who treat people as if their homosexuality is a mental illness in need of a cure.
To me, an Op-Ed is a place for well-informed voices. The opinions expressed don't necessarily reflect the publication, but what does is the consistency and quality of the writing. It's a section where a range of developed thoughts and opinions have a place to be heard; and so it is definitely worth questioning and being skeptical (not cynical) to maintain the integrity of what goes opposite the editorial page.
Originally published on www.hewitt-times.org.