Gays may never be able to alter their same-sex attraction. But if they're religious, they may consider never having sex again.
This was one of the messages the American Psychological Association had for therapists in an August report on so-called reparative therapy. After reviewing 83 studies, the APA's sexual orientation task force declared that "ex-gay" efforts can lead to suicidal thoughts and advised therapists to stop telling gay clients they can turn straight.
In many ways the report was a slam dunk for groups like Truth Wins Out, an organization working to counter ex-gay myths. But because of a point made in the report, groups like Focus on the Family and Exodus International are also claiming victory. Aside from dismissing ex-gay therapy, the report suggests that clients who experience a conflict between their religion and their sexual orientation could be assisted by going celibate.
Last year, members of Focus on the Family and Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International (a group that promises "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ"), met with the APA task force compiling the report. "We were saying there are people like [us] who are conflicted with their faith and their sexuality and we would appreciate at least a nod in our direction," Chambers tells The Advocate. "And I think the report that came out acknowledges that."
But Clinton Anderson, director of the APA's LGBT concerns office, says the celibacy point wasn't a result of pressure, but a practical decision to address the concerns of deeply religious gay people.
Anderson takes umbrage at groups like Exodus. "A lot of those organizations have used the idea that the APA has not cared about the distress of people who, for religious reasons, feel bad about their sexual orientation," he says. "Exodus and Focus on the Family have tried to say that the APA disregards those people. Just because they created this myth doesn't mean it's true."
Addressing the report's declaration that ex-gay programs generally don't work, Chambers says Exodus "doesn't do conversion therapy" but espouses a Christian life that naturally leads to heterosexuality. He also said the report will have little effect on his organization, and in fact, Exodus announced in August that it would be taking over Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conferences, where attendees are taught to "understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome."
Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, is looking for the takeaway from the report's main point -- that conversion therapy is a fraud. "We're going to be able to document specifically how these therapists have violated ethical guidelines," Besen says. "Then we're going to see if there are particular actions we can take, whether it's through the APA or through a court of law."