"Conversion therapy" in the United States is practiced in many forms -- talk therapy, exorcisms, and even torture. But despite broad consensus with the clinical community and even growing recognition among religious leaders that is is harmful, it remains legal in 35 states for licensed therapists and mental health professionals to put minors through the dangerous practice of trying to alter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In an ongoing series, "Can't Be Converted,"The Advocate collected testimonials of those who endured conversion therapy in states where it remains legal to perform on minors. These individuals ultimately rejected the practice and now share their stories in an effort to educate the public -- especially parents -- on the potential harm, in hopes of influencing policymakers to follow the lead of states that no longer tolerate this abuse.
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya 50 years ago. My parents were missionaries. My dad was a mechanic who would overhaul Cessna engines and rebuild these airplanes to fly into these hard-to-reach areas and deliver medical supplies to doctors and other missionaries. So my parents were and still are very evangelical right wing. We left Kenya when I was three months old and moved to southern California, near San Diego.
I was the poster child growing up in our evangelical church. They consider themselves interdenominational but it was basically Baptist theology, very Billy Graham fundamentalism.
But when I was about 12 or 13, there were dreams.
The most significant things in my life started out in a dream. I just remember in this dream that there was a super attractive man; he had chiseled features and was so handsome. I was so ravaged by that and woke up thinking, just to go along with what I'd been taught and trying to rationalize it, that must have been Lucifer. That was the devil and he shows himself as attractive and alluring to deceive me. But then that attraction just continued.
I've sought different ways of becoming normal in the simplistic way I was brought up to think, which was to go that path of, it's the enemy, it's the demons.
When I was a freshman in college I heard about this thing called Restoration Outreach. There was some event they were having at my school, Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.; a bunch of different organizations had their tables out and I saw that table and picked up some literature.
That was when I met a woman who had founded Restoration Outreach. Before you can go to the meetings, she has to interview you and make sure what your intentions are; that you're not there to find other guys. I gave my story and I remember being told -- and this is this is what my father actually believes still -- that you're this way because your father was distant.
Growing up, my mother was overbearing. I had a very close relationship with her. There are nine years separating me and my closest sibling, so my father blames himself for me being gay. We're still on somewhat good terms as long as we don't discuss that.
So this is what this woman was telling me. That's what most evangelicals teach and believe.
After meeting with her, then I was free to come to the meetings. The people there would tell us to pray more, read the Bible more, see God more. It was similar to group therapy. Honestly, I don't know if they had any other techniques other than just what I experienced.
The message they were conveying was, you just haven't sought God enough. You haven't gotten close to God enough. You haven't read your Bible enough. It was never enough. And that was insanity. If you still had feelings for the same sex, "Brother, you just need to pray. Have faith. Trust God." The silver lining to all that is I felt like I had really been so faithful as a core member of my church youth group growing up.
I just remember listening to session after session, hours and hours of lecturing me and how I should be proud to be a man. Well, that's not my issue. I'm not feminine. But I just listened anyways, thinking maybe there's something. I just believed strongly that at some point something will take and I'll be able to live a happy, straight life having a wife and not ostracized by my family.
I attended a few meetings through my freshman year and stopped after that. After I left, I had this this year of shelving all my questions I'd been wondering about. God, what is this? Is this all going to come together and make sense? I've been praying for many years because of what I was told. What I was taught and what I knew inside did not match up.
The ironic thing was when I finally went out to a gay bar for the first time, I was very sexually frustrated. I went home with a guy and he was the son of the woman behind Restoration Outreach. That was just so bizarre. Of course, he is the reason why she started the program.
I'm fully behind banning these groups because it was really misleading and took me in a wrong direction. Even if my group wasn't as tangibly sinister as others, it carried a subtle message that propelled and maintained the wrong idea in my head about myself, and kept me from accepting myself for being gay. They say, "Hey, there's something wrong with you and it needs to change and be cured." But when I went there, it actually did a really positive thing and that was to show me, wow, I'm not the only one. These people are going through this too. That was what opened my eyes.
The self-awareness and self-acceptance has been invaluable, and coming to that point was the most challenging thing for me to do -- to reconcile my faith, to believe God accepts me as who I am and how he made me.
Now my husband and I have been together since 2004 and married in 2015. We have not been going to church but my mother-in-law attends a church where there's a gay pastor. So we go with her to the United Church of Christ. It's very open and accepting.
DAVID STACK now lives in Florida and works for an independent television production company.
If you'd like to share your experience with conversion therapy, email reporter Jacob Ogles at firstname.lastname@example.org.