Might Conversion Therapy Work? NPR Says It's Debatable

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com August 01 2011 6:00 PM ET

In a story this morning, NPR portrayed the merits of conversion therapy as still up for debate, and bloggers are reacting with outrage.

Reporter Alix Spiegel interviewed two men who had very different experiences of conversion therapy. The first man, Rich Wyler, said his "feelings for men shifted from fear and attraction to brotherhood and connection." The second said the so-called therapy was mentally damaging.

Spiegel summarized the point of the story this way: "So these two men represent two sides of a debate that's been raging in psychological circles for more than a decade. One side feels that therapies which seek to make gay people straight are invariably harmful, the other that these therapies can help gay people who are profoundly uncomfortable with their same-sex attraction."

Not only did Wyler's argument get equal footing, NPR also left out that he profits from insisting gay people can be cured. It will cost you hundreds of dollars to attend one of Wyler's Journey Into Manhood weekends, which are run by People Can Change, a group Wyler founded and that makes money off this notion in a number of ways.

Warren Throckmorton of Religion Dispatches first noted the omission, saying the NPR report "obscured" information. The report comes in stark comparison to a recent series by CNN, which offered a devastating recounting of the harm done by George Rekers and his experimental form of the practice. For its part, when contacted by The Advocate, NPR representatives offered no comment about its coverage at this time.

In Spiegel's story it was noted that the American Psychological Association deems all types of conversion therapy as futile. But in an online post about her story, headlined "Can Therapy Help Change Sexual Orientation?" Spiegel describes conversion therapy as merely part of a "debate that hasn't been resolved despite the APA's position."

All of this prompted Zack Ford at ThinkProgress to object and cast blame on NPR for spreading falsehoods.

"The reality is that there is no debate about ex-gay therapy, and by providing a platform for Wyler to continue propagating the myths about its potential, NPR is contributing to a culture of harm," Ford wrote.

Peterson Toscano, the gay man interviewed who survived ex-gay therapy, made the point about what's at stake quite clearly in the story.

"The distress that's caused is real," Toscano said. "It's not just that this doesn't work, it's destructive."

















In response to that quote, Spiegel's piece concluded with some fuzzy math: "For every Wyler, there are dozens and dozens of gay men and women who struggle through a process that asks them to annihilate a part of themselves."