A gay-rights advocate at a Pride march in 2013. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)
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“Homosexuals can change!” “Share if you agree!”

Thus was the good news proclaimed on the Facebook page for this past weekend’s Freedom March in Washington, a gathering of people “who have left Homosexuality/Transgender lives.” The march celebrated these transformations as feats attainable only through faith in Jesus.

“I feel that I want to live in a life of purity. I feel that through loving Christ, he will walk me out of any situation,” said Luis Javier Ruiz, a survivor of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, who spoke at the event about how he no longer identifies as gay.

The “in Christ alone” message of the march is a pivot from past advocacy of conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to alter a client’s sexual orientation through psychological intervention. But although the “changed from within” narrative the march pushed may seem less harmful than the horrors of forced conversion, it is no less insidious.

The march’s organizer, Jeffrey McCall, a former transgender-rights activist, and event co-sponsor Voice of the Voiceless, which has supported conversion therapy in the past, were smart to avoid any endorsement of the practice this time around. State lawmakers have rightfully begun to undercut conversion therapy with licensing restrictions and outright bans. Ten states and the District now prohibit the practice for minors, and many local jurisdictions have enacted similar laws, with momentum building in more places.

But it is little consolation that the march eschewed only this most clinical assault on LGBTQ people’s identities. What advocates are now peddling in its place is indeed equally nefarious — a do-it-yourself conversion available in the comfort of one’s own home. Videos from the rally couched an orientation revamp in the style a self-help manual: “Former homosexual shares the key to finding your true identity.”

Evidence suggests that genuine orientation change is unattainable, but in the context of a religion so built on leaps of faith, the science is not insuperable.  If “escaping” same-sex attraction requires nothing more than robust faith and self-denial, rather than electroshocks and aversion therapy, it’s never not on the table for a conflicted queer Christian. Cutting out the conversion therapist makes the path to heterosexuality agonizing in its total self-direction. The specter of possibility, however unrealistic, hovers and torments.

And when the stakes are so high — the equation of homosexuality with death via the featured Pulse survivor was certainly no coincidence — and the switch in orientation is immediately accessible, this sort of sexual self-deportation can only seem the logical choice.

As it often goes with these gatherings, only a few dozen people attended the Freedom March. But the marchers’ therapy workaround is being pushed more and more — and it’s on much surer legal footing. No matter how states legislate, the LGBTQ community won’t be rid of coerced conversion unless a religious shift busts up the push to put this dangerous self-help in every head.

Read more:

Outlaw conversion therapy in Maryland

Conversion therapy is a form of bullying. Maryland is right to fight it.

A bisexual state delegate wants to ban conversion therapy on minors. Her state senator father disagrees.