The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Ex-gay’ movement targets Va. universities, demands ‘conversion’ option be offered to gays

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There continue to be people in this world who think that homosexuality is a disease or condition and that a gay person can be “cured.” One such group is called Voice of the Voiceless, and in celebration of “Ex-Gay Awareness Month,” Voiceless president Christopher Doyle conducted an undercover investigation in September to see if Virginia’s public universities were providing information on ways to become un-gay.

At George Mason University in Fairfax, Doyle visited the school’s LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual Questioning) counseling center, where students can go to discuss questions about their sexuality. He met with the director of Mason’s LGBTQ center, Ric Chollar, in the role of “a former homosexual posing as [a] graduate student seeking anonymous counseling for unwanted homosexual feeling,” according to a press release Doyle later issued. He claimed that he “nearly begged the counselor to give me an ex-gay pamphlet, which was buried in the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet.” Such a pamphlet would suggest “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, so that a homosexual might be “repaired” (as in currently broken) or “converted” (to the proper setting of heterosexual). A publication for school officials by the American Psychological Association says that “the most important fact about these ‘therapies’ is that they are based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions.”

Janelle Germanos saw Doyle’s press release and wrote a fair and balanced story for the George Mason student newspaper, The Fourth Estate, in which she spoke to both sides as well as experts on the viability of reparative therapy for curing homosexuality. There isn’t much dispute in the scientific community that sexual orientation cannot be “treated” by psychotherapy or prayer (or drugs or snake-handling or anything else), and Germanos notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association all advise against reparative therapy. (I would add to that list the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers and the World Health Organization.)

The vice president of university life at GMU, Rose Pascarell, also told Germanos that such therapy, being rejected by mainstream medical thought, “is not a healthy response to the individuals and their questions and concerns about their sexual orientation.” Pascarell and Chollar also told Germanos that Doyle’s press release was misleading, that he did not immediately ask for “undoing homosexuality literature,” and that Chollar asked Doyle if he were from an ex-gay group.

But Doyle, who works closely with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, claims there are First Amendment and therapeutic issues here: That students have a right to hear from all sides, and that the university should not screen out those whose views they don’t agree with. He also noted that in proper and ethical counseling,  “You take the client’s goals, and you work with their goals and you don’t impose your own values. It’s supposed to be value neutral.” The Voiceless website says the group’s mission is “to defend the rights of former homosexuals, individuals with unwanted SSA, and their families.” I think we would all agree that everyone deserves equal rights. And what is SSA? you ask. Same-sex attraction. Nothing to do with that abbreviation backwards.

So the question becomes, When is it appropriate for a public university to offer information about a thoroughly discredited belief? California and New Jersey have both banned “reparative therapy” to undo homosexuality, calling it dangerous. In June, the largest group devoted to changing sexual orientation, Exodus International, shut down and its leader apologized for its misdirected work. Must the idea that homosexuality can be “repaired” or “converted” still be offered to students? Your thoughts welcomed below.