The first time I met Craig, he was sitting in a diner, dancing to a Britney Spears song. He had dark brown hair, thick black framed glasses, and the slight hint of stubble that I found ridiculously attractive. It only took three seconds of watching him bounce to "Toxic" though, to kill any hopes of us dating. Instead, we became good friends. He was 22, I was 24, and he was my first gay friend.
One Saturday I met him up at the Starbucks where he worked, and he sat with me on his break.
"So I start therapy tomorrow," he said.
My eyebrows raised. "Therapy for what?"
He sighed. "Therapy with a Christian counselor who is going to help me 'redirect' my attractions."
"That's a crock of shit."
"Tell me about it."
Craig's parents, devout fundamentalist Christians, had kicked him out of the house shortly after he came out to them, when he was in his early 20s. A week later they welcomed him back -- on their terms. These included a new set of written rules, one of them being that he had to quit his job, because they found out his manager was a lesbian. After months of incessant verbal assaults by his mother, who didn't believe his denials that he had not been molested, Craig voluntarily agreed to go to a therapist of their choosing. To set the record straight. They just happened to choose the only therapist in the region who was certified by NARTH, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality. Craig began reorientation therapy.
He gave it a good try, and thankfully, the therapist was actually a nice guy. He didn't berate Craig or make him feel worse than his parents already did. But shockingly, his sexual orientation did not change. And the therapist concluded there was no indications of sexual abuse or trauma in Craig's childhood.
Despite what his parents, or the Liberty Counsel may think, sticking with the counselor for a few more months, or even years, would not have made a difference. That's because gay conversion therapy does not work. Countless scientific studies have verified that. Even some organizations who were founded on the belief that this type of therapy works, have since recounted.
The sad thing is, many Christian organizations simply don't care. They ignore the evidence, the science and the countless testimonies of ex-therapy students who got nothing out of treatment but a feeling of failure. Instead of doing the right thing, and accepting they were wrong, they're clinging to their outdated and harmful attitude towards homosexuality. The attitude that says, "something is wrong with you, and you need to change."
Gays and lesbians do not need to change. Christians do. The Christians who refuse to see the young person standing before them, like my friend Craig, who tried for his entire life to "pray the gay away." Who not only was willing to be cured, but asked God to cure him, years before the therapy. What he, and so many others know now, is that there was nothing to be cured. Nothing except the homophobia that was causing them such pain and self loathing.
It took me years to see this myself, as a Christian who was raised in the same environment as Craig. What changed my opinion on this damaging belief, that one can change their sexuality if they really try hard enough, was seeing the effect on my friends. Every single gay friend I made, especially the ones raised in the church, had tried to make themselves straight. Ignored their feelings, prayed for them to go away, or dated the opposite sex and pretended. And all of them got nothing out of this denial but self-loathing, and heartache. It wasn't until they accepted who they were, that they were able to live full, happy lives.
That's why, as a Christian, I support the California lawmakers who want to ban this therapy, aimed at turning gay kids straight. My hope is that if it is banned, the gay and lesbians youths who were going to attend will instead be redirected somewhere that they'll be treated with understanding and respect. I pray that they'll encounter people who will care about them, instead of trying to make them feel bad about something they cannot change.
It's too bad that the churches who are fighting this ban, are hoping for the opposite.