Does so-called “conversion therapy” turn gay men into straight men?
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence thinks so. He also believes homosexuals should get the therapy in keeping with what he calls Christian teaching. Legislation to make conversion therapy illegal for minors and to ban charging or advertising such therapy has drawn much interest in the Nebraska state capital in Lincoln. A hearing on the bill attracted an overflow crowd last week.
Figuring prominently was one brave soul who testified that conversion therapy — also known as exgay or reparative therapy — traumatized him as a teenager. The man said he used to sneak out of the house twice a week to get therapy in hopes of changing from homosexual to heterosexual. Adam Witte of Omaha said he feared disappointing his religious parents and his church community.
Witte said he sought to change his sexual orientation in 1998 when he was only 16. Therapy included increasingly large doses of shock treatment that became so severe that he was knocked unconscious and awoke to find he had bitten off a piece of his tongue. He bled profusely, but his “same-sex” attraction had not changed a bit, he said.
Brady Cone, who opposes the legislative ban, said therapy changed him and that he is now “happily married.” He said thousands of people like him have benefited from conversion therapy.
Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who introduced the bill, said conversion therapy is ineffective and harmful, a stance widely held in medical circles these days. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association all oppose conversion therapy.
Pence gained much attention back on the campaign trail for supporting the controversial therapy, which he believes “cures” homosexuality. Those who favor conversion therapy also cite a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech if it is banned.
Hunt said the practice stems from prejudice or a belief that homosexuality is abnormal. Indeed, one man at the hearing said God made two sexes — male and female — and that that was that.
According to Omaha television news station KETV-News, Witte eventually came out to his parents and received a warm reception instead of the outcry he’d expected. KETV also reported that Witte later said that he hopes no other Nebraskan has to endure what he did.
Backing Pence, known for his strong religious convictions, are many anti-gay Christian organizations even though many science-based groups say there is no evidence that conversion therapy is successful and that it can be harmful, as in Witte’s case. Many religious organizations support talk therapy.
The Omaha World-Herald cited a 2018 report from the UCLA School of Law that estimates 20,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth will undergo conversion therapy from licensed healthcare professionals before they reach the age of majority.
“Talk therapy is the most common technique used in conversion therapy currently, but some practitioners have also used various types of aversion therapy, such as induced vomiting or electric shocks,” the Herald reported.
All states allow conversion therapy, but 15 prohibit it for minors. A New Jersey court ruled that charging money for the practice constitutes fraud, regardless of the patient’s age.
Hunt pulled a companion bill that would have classified conversion therapy as child abuse.