It was this past March, while launching Peace Advocacy Network's LGBTQ equality campaign, that I became aware of the group Courage, a Catholic organization that claims to "minister to persons with same-sex attraction and their loved ones." I was immediately drawn to investigate this and started by visiting their website to try and find out what they actually do. I noticed that they claim to accept homosexuals, but just not the behavior. Essentially, they'll accept you as long as you live a chaste lifestyle. I then noticed that they had tons of bizarre and false information about LGBTQ individuals on their website. For example, in their Health Risks of Gay Sex resource they list one risk as "Mild to fatal medical injuries may also occur due to the practice of various forms of sadism."
It became apparently obvious to me that this was far more than some benign prayer group and perhaps something that could be causing some real harm. I emailed my local chapter and inquired about where and when the meetings were. After several bizarre email exchanges, I was told I had to meet with the local leader to be given the secret meeting location and time. I was prepared to do so until a comment was thrown into an email indicating that if I was an "undercover journalist" looking for a "juicy story" they "have lawyer friends prepared to prosecute the perpetrated fraud."I later discovered they had been infiltrated before, but at the time the threat freaked me out enough to disengage.
I thought the next best thing to do would be to protest them publicly. I discovered they were holding a sports camp near Philadelphia where they have gay men play sports and pray in an effort to heal what they call "sports wound." As crazy as it sounded, it was true. They even spoke to the media in response to the protest, where one camp participant summed up his experience by saying, "I also liked when one man, whom I'd felt intimated by, gave me a pat on my belly, meaning 'way to go!' His touch made me feel accepted as one of the guys."
Although the protest had spurred an array of media attention, in addition to formal professional and ethical complaints against two of Courage's professional cohorts, I was still left with the question about whether or not Courage themselves actually performed "conversion" therapy. In order to find out more, I called into their weekly conference line. The call lasted more than two hours and included asking participants to "grab a crucifix and pray" and discussing the evils of masturbation. What really struck me was when a regular caller admitted he'd been struggling with same-sex attraction for 18 years, another clear indicator to me that people don't convert from gay to straight.
On the call, I was informed that there are Courage "reparational groups," which they also call "EnCourage" meetings and are different from the regular Courage meetings. The website describes the reparational groups as "A group of men and women who desire to unite themselves with Our Lord particularly in their weakness while praying for the conversion and healing of those who struggle with same-sex desires." This is one of the few times I noticed they outwardly used the words, "conversion" and "healing." They also invited me to a Yahoo group, where more than 150 members converse about things such as masturbation, pornography, the repeal of SB1172, and where they pray together for the "healing and conversion of LGBT activists."
I read in their online group where one participant contemplated slitting his wrists because he masturbated and had "unwholesome" conversations which made him feel like a hypocrite. Another former Courage participant had similar masturbation guilt: "By spring of my first year, I was already masturbating every day and crying bitterly after I ejaculated. I was punishing myself if I dared to look at any pornography." Courage simply does not seem to care that they are causing real harm to people. They actually had the audacity to recently release a video claiming they say, "yes to you."
With all I had seen, I could now begin to answer the question of whether Courage does or does not actually perform "conversion" therapy. SB1172 in California, which bans "conversion" therapy, defines these sexual orientation change efforts as:
"any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual's sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex."
Based on that, I'd say it's pretty clear that they are in fact performing "conversion" therapy.
It's important to point out that while SB1172 is a huge step forward, it does not prevent Courage and similar religious groups from continuing these activities in California, as it only applies to licensed professionals. It also only protects people under 18 years of age. This is why I believe it's so critically important to expose these religious groups and the real harm they're inflicting in people's lives. This is beyond freedom of speech and religion. Surely, we wouldn't allow a religious group to conduct a human sacrifice. If Courage's activities are clearly "conversion" therapy according to the text of SB1172 and the basis of the bill is that these activities cause actual harm to people, then what good are these laws doing if they're not stopping groups like Courage from using false "science" and religious brainwashing from destroying people's lives?