Cure the Gay: Gay Conversion Therapy – Real or Hoax?
Can you "cure" the gay? The vast majority of the North American society believes that homosexuality is not an illness and thus has no need to be cured. However, some groups, particularly Christian right groups in the United States, say yes, you can "cure the gay" and they offer what is known as gay conversion therapy or gay reparative therapy. The most famous recent example of this is Republican presidential contender, Michelle Bachmann's husband and his ministry, that practices therapy designed to "cure" homosexuality.
Cure the Gay – Is Being Gay an Illness?
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the book which defines psychiatric disorders, homosexuality was, indeed, listed as a disorder until 1973. Its removal as an illness was hotly contested at the time but organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA) are now clear and making statements such as:1
"Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and the APA opposes all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation."
Moreover, genetic causes of homosexuality and biological differences between gay and straight people are being studied, and confirmed, now more than ever.2 (read: Why Are People Gay? Gay By Choice or Is Being Gay Genetic?)
Cure the Gay – What is Gay Conversion Therapy?
Gay conversion therapy, also known as gay reparative therapy, typically uses prayer, counseling or both in an attempt to help people change their sexual orientation. Some licensed professionals practice gay conversion therapy and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, led by psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, claim that gays suffer from:3
- Childhood trauma
- Shaming in their families of origin
- Chronic unmet needs for love and affection by their same-sex parent
Does Gay Conversion Therapy Work?
There is little to no evidence that gay conversion therapy, or "gay cure therapies," work. In fact, the American Psychological Association reviewed 83 studies on gay cures and determined that there was little evidence to support the changing of a person's sexual orientation. What little evidence there is suggests that success is limited to:
- Convincing bisexual people to limit their sexual activities to members of the opposite sex
- Convincing homosexual people to become celibate
- Convincing gay men and lesbian women to attempt to maintain heterosexual relationships, whilst retaining their homosexual orientation
In one case, two founders of a major conversion program, Exodus International, were quoted as saying that the program was, "ineffective . . . not one person was healed." The two male founders fell in love and were united in a union ceremony.4
Professional organizations such as the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychiatric Association have come out saying that gay reparative therapy is unethical and its practitioners risk censure or loss of license. The American Psychological Association study also showed that therapy attempting to change a person's sexual orientation could cause depression and suicidal tendencies among patients. The American Psychological Association voted to repudiate reparative therapy by a vote of 125 to 4 in 2009.5
At this point in time, there is no real clinical evidence that anyone can cure the gay. If you are asking yourself questions such as "Am I gay or not?" or you're having difficulty coming to terms with being gay, you might consider gay therapy or joining one of the many gay support groups that meet in person or online.
Last Updated: 18 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD