When Ryan Kendall, a young gay man living in Denver, heard the news back in 2008 that the California Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, he was so excited that he had to participate personally in the movement. He reached out to us as leaders of Marriage Equality USA, and we soon learned that Ryan, as a 14-year-old boy, had survived brutal so-called "conversion" therapy to change his sexual orientation. When Ryan's parents had learned he was gay by secretly reading his journal, they'd shipped him off to a conversion program in Southern California.
In 2010 a witness was needed at the Prop. 8 trial to testify about the fact that people can't change their sexual orientation, and Ryan did something heroic: He testified about the most vulnerable aspects of his life before a hostile opposition attorney poised to try to destroy him on cross-examination. That attorney failed, and Ryan's testimony had a profound impact on the trial. Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over the trial and decided the case, stated recently that Ryan's testimony was "the most touching" of the entire trial.
Right now Ryan lives in Texas, and this month the Texas Republican Party enshrined a pro-conversion-therapy plank in its party platform. After testifying at the Prop. 8 trial, Ryan has testified before legislatures across the country and has been instrumental in passing state laws protecting LGBT youth from conversion therapy. Here's his reaction to Saturday's news:
I began today like any other: I woke up, went to the gym, and afterwards I decided to relax at home with a good book. Then I learned the news of the Texas GOP's repugnant actions. It felt like a hot knife slicing through my soul. The pain of this act was visceral, and it is all too real for too many LGBT children and adults. As a young teen, the vile practice of so-called conversion therapy destroyed my life, tore apart my family, and nearly killed me. I have spent the majority of my life working to overcome the horrific consequences of conversion therapy, and I have dedicated my professional life to eradicating this terrible practice. Let me be perfectly clear: Conversion therapy is junk science that kills children. Often, those of us who advocate against conversion therapy struggle to find survivors to speak out about their experiences because people subjected to the therapy are either too emotionally damaged to bear it, or worse yet, they did not survive. Put simply, conversion therapy is a very real threat to the lives of countless LGBT people in Texas, the United States, and abroad in places like Uganda and elsewhere.
We will not sit silently while Texas and its officials abuse members of the LGBT community. This must stop.
With voices like Ryan's, it will stop, and we as a community will achieve both legal and lived equality.
Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, together 27 years, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.
This piece was originally published in the San Francisco Bay Times.