The Damaging Effects of "Gay Conversion Therapy"

Recently, yet another of of the biggest proponents of so-called “conversion therapy,” McKrae Game,has come out as gay, exposing himself as a person who worked so hard to conceal his own authentic identity that he put thousands of young people at risk or worse with his efforts to “convert” them to straight. While it is good for Game personally that he is now becoming a healthier person by acknowledging his truth, the damage that he and his organization did to families who came in search of his false promises cannot be underestimated.

Conversion therapy is a practice that attempts to use psychological or religious methods to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to bisexual or straight. It is not a scientifically based therapeutic practice, and has been rejected by many health-related organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. It has shown no evidence to be effective in the long term, and has in fact been demonstrated to be harmful and linked to wide-reaching ethical and health concerns.

There are many first person accounts of the damaging aspects of conversion therapy, such as that of Maplewood, New Jersey Town Committeeman and lawyer Dean Dafis. In the fight to ban conversion therapy in New Jersey, Dafis reflected on his childhood experiences of attempted conversion therapy both at home and in the office of a provider, remembering, 

“I was barely a teen when I was first led into a psychiatrist’s office to be “cured” of my physical & emotional affection for men, my effeminate body language, “weak” voice, and “artistic” sensibility; I had just come out to my parents.

They didn’t understand – I didn’t understand (despite ‘knowing’ as early as 8).

Exorcism at church did not work. Once a week I was driven to my appointment with a total stranger – a licensed medical professional – with whom I shared intimacies I didn’t even understand yet, who “taught” me how to be a “real” man, who subjected me to pornographic and violent images, who made me scream in anger and cry so that I could according to him “reach my ‘breakthrough.” The reparative behavior exercises were reinforced at home, my father forcing me to ‘walk a straight line’ from the living room to the dining room – any slight ‘unmanly’ swish of the hips was met with a bold strike of the rolling pin, again and again until I got it ‘right’.

By the time I reached early adulthood, I was beaten – literally electroshocked – into “submission” and proceeded down a path of darkness, depression, self hate, reckless/self destructive behavior, and lies for too many years. It wasn’t until 9/11/2001 when I was witnessing colleagues jumping to their deaths right in front of me that I realized what I had lost all those years and what I had to do to become healthy, to reclaim and reassert my true self, and to serve others so that they never suffer like me.

LGBTQ Conversion Therapy is not ‘therapy’ – whether practiced in a medical office or at a bible camp by ‘counselors’ – it’s CHILD ABUSE. While the medical community has since outlawed the practice and 16 states (plus DC) have explicitly banned it – bans pending in 18 other states – youth are still being abused by it. It’s estimated that over 700,000 LGBTQ Americans have been subjected to it. Many of those are no longer with us as there is a direct correlation to suicide – I’m one of the lucky ones.”

Dafis’ first person account drives home the deeply damaging effects of attempted conversion therapy, and his story is unfortunately one of thousands. Individuals such as McKrae Game should be ashamed of the pain that their ill-informed, dangerous treatments have brought to many LGBTQ+ people. Mere apologies are worth little in correcting the damage that has been done, and continues to be done, to youth and young adults in the LGBTQ+ community.

The movement against conversion therapy, thankfully, has taken hold in several states. At the time of writing, seventeen states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have banned this harmful practice. Fourteen other states have proposed legislation, as evidence has emerged indicating the very real impact of conversion therapy. According to a report by the American Psychological Assocation, conversion therapy has been linked to increased depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations.

Many families of youth struggling with their sexuality or gender may first approach their child’s primary health care providers such as the child’s pediatrician to inquire about the possibility of conversion therapy. It is essential for these health care providers to understand the damaging and potentially life-threatening nature of these therapies, and to strongly steer families away from those who provide it. Health care providers must instead take the responsibility of identifying appropriate, safe resources for these youth and families in their care and educating the families that they serve on the health implications of damaging conversion therapies. Licensed therapists who provide evidence-based care for families who may need help in processing their child’s identity, and who can support the family through their process, are the appropriate referral in these cases. Those resources must be shared with families in different stages, as they work with their child’s coming out process. 

Additionally, there are larger national organizations that support families as their children are coming out. These organizations support families to accept their children as they are instead of attempting damaging treatment, including PFLAG, the CDC, and The Family Acceptance Project, among others.

If you are a health care provider or health-related organization who is interested in learning more about how to promote health among your LGBTQ+ adult or pediatric patients, please reach out to Rainbow Health Consulting to bring us to your site for training.