Last week the American Psychological Association (APA), of which I am a member, issued a report stating that there is insufficient evidence that efforts to change sexual orientation work and that mental health professionals who attempt such work should stop telling clients that they can change from gay to straight through therapy or other treatments. The APA’s statement comes in response to so-called “conversion” and “reparative” therapies practiced by some right-wing religious “pastoral” and “Christian” counselors that claim that sexual orientation is a “lifestyle choice.” Any properly trained and licensed mental health counselor who is familiar with the scientific research regarding sexual orientation knows that this is a bogus claim. Every major medical and mental health association – the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, to name just a few – has denounced conversion and reparative therapies as not only ineffective but dangerous. They are ineffective because sexual orientation, whether homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual, is a biological given, not a choice. They are dangerous because they promise something they cannot deliver, making depressed and suicidal clients even more despairing. As with evolution and global warming, homosexuality is yet another subject that some right-wing religious people would rather base their beliefs on their ideology rather than the facts.
But this is not only a case of willful ignorance. It is also a case of fraud. Christian conversion and reparative organizations and counselors, knowing that the scientific evidence disproves their claims to bend gays straight, nevertheless charge their patients for their counseling services. In other words, they tell gays that they are going to hell because of their “lifestyle choice” and promise them a “cure.” Then when the cure doesn’t work, they can blame the patient for not really wanting to change or not trying hard enough. It’s a no-win proposition for gay patients, but the Christian conversion and reparative counselors still collect their fees and publish their books and DVDs. Using religion to exploit others for financial gain has to be the second oldest profession, and it bears a striking resemblance to the first.
While not all Christians are homophobic, just about every homophobe is a Christian. I find this highly ironic given the fact that Christians claim to be followers of a man who taught and exemplified unconditional love toward all people. Yet homophobic Christians practice conditional acceptance, a love with strings attached. They say, “We will love and accept you … if you will change … when you get fixed … after you become like us.” I doubt that Jesus would recognize the religion being practiced in his name. Actually, he would. He was quite familiar with and critical of the narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness of Pharisaical Judaism. Every religion apparently has its share of Pharisees.
Even if the right-wing homophobes were right – that sexual orientation were a choice – what difference would that make? We are not talking about the choice to lie, cheat, steal, or murder. We are talking about a person’s desire to love someone who happens to be of the same sex. Can we have too much love in the world?
For me, the scientific and biological issues of homosexuality aren’t nearly as important as the moral issues. The all-important issue is how we treat our fellow human beings. Every person has dignity and worth and deserves to be treated with respect simply because he or she is a human being. Sexual orientation is no more important that skin color. We have learned as a society that it doesn’t make sense to treat people differently based on skin color. It’s time we realized the same thing about sexual orientation.