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Community meetings to discuss dangers of ‘ex-gay’ therapy

The prevalence of so-called “ex-gay” therapies is still extremely problematic and dangerous, especially in heavily-religious communities, which is why two community discussions will be held in Salt Lake City and Provo, said Sam Wolfe, a civil rights lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The meetings were held on April 11, at the Provo Community United Church of Christ and on April 12, at the First Baptist Church in Salt Lake City.

Panelists will include Wolfe, Wayne Besen, the Founding Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, Lisa Diamond, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Utah and Lee Beckstead, a Salt Lake City psychologist.

“We’ve done these community meetings elsewhere around the country and we really like to have the community involvement. It is a discussion where we can hear the personal stories of people who were affected by these therapies,” Wolfe said. “It can be very difficult, especially for those who recently went through the programs, but the meetings can be so beneficial.”

While many are aware of so-called reparative therapy practices that happened decades ago, people are still being affected by the practices that have been denounced by every major medical association in the nation, Wolfe said. Although Mormon Church officials do not specifically condone ‘ex-gay’ therapies there is still an attitude that being gay is bad, he said. This is why many people, especially young people, are being forced to take part in therapy programs and retreats that can cause significant damage.

“There is no evidence that you can change orientation from gay to straight,” Wolfe said “The American Psychiatric Association says some of the risks can include depression, anxiety and can result in suicidal thoughts. Anecdotally, I can tell you can be very harmful.”

Wolfe, who said he experienced “ex-gay” therapies when he was younger, said the effects of the therapies are destructive to individuals, but also damaging on a much broader scale. The “junk science” behind the reparative therapies is often cited by lawmakers and those defending anti-gay legislation. Statistics and anecdotes are shared in government halls around the nation to defend discrimination and say that being gay is a choice or some sort of mental illness, he said.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, reparative therapy group leaders are touted as scientists and experts in the field, which is why it is so important to shine the light on the practice as being ineffective and extremely damaging, he said.

“We’re making progress and reparative therapies are losing ground, but they are still very influential,” he said. “There are multiple groups that purport to be able to change someone’s sexual orientation, and some of them are very large.”

Wolfe was the first full-time member of the SPLC team to be dedicated to queer rights and helped launch the LGBT Rights Project. Along with calling out groups that use lies and misleading facts to advance an anti-gay agenda, the SPLC and Wolfe have been working on stopping the influence of the “ex-gay” therapies.

Members of the community are invited to attend the community meetings and those that have experienced reparative therapies are encouraged to share their stories. After hearing some rumors of aversion, or electro-shock therapy, being used in the recent past, Wolfe said he would be particularly interested in someone who may have been subjected to that type of therapy coming forward.

You should go…

WHEN: Wednesday, April 11, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Provo Community United Church of Christ, 175 N. University Ave.

WHEN: Thursday, April 12, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: First Baptist Church, 777 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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