When gay kids say they don't want to be gay, is that a sad commentary on society we need to overcome, or should parents have the right to get them therapy to try and change?
Pima County just banned conversion, or reparative, therapy for minors. It went into effect Aug. 28, so now, any paid therapist who tries offering it to kids can be fined $2,500.
We talked with people on both sides who've been through therapy that seeks to minimize same sex attractions.
Denounced by the medical community and banned by nine states, and 20 cities, there are still hundreds, if not thousands, who seek it out voluntarily.
Many say this debate where family, faith and politics collide is the civil rights movement of our time.
All the major medical and mental health communities have long said conversion therapy is ineffective, harmful and unethical.
Public opinion is increasingly supportive of LGBT rights, and yet, there are still a lot of parents out there who say it's a choice they have the right to make for their children.
There was a time gay conversion therapy involved practices like electroshock therapy and forced surgeries.
There were even bizarre reports of attempted exorcisms where preachers are seen screaming over a vomiting teen things like, “c’mon you homosexual demon, we want a clean spirit, get out the way!”
The persistence of more common modern methods like counseling, religious retreats and pharmaceuticals, came to a head two years ago.
Transgender teen Leelah Alcorn's suicide note, prompted President Obama to endorse this petition to ban conversion therapy all together.
The very next year, it was endorsed by the GOP party platform.
Ryan Glover, 28, thinks that’s ridiculous.
“I know that it didn't work for me because I tried it,” Glover said.
He left conversion therapy after going every week for about six months here in the valley.
“There was a time when I felt the same way. I just want this to be gone: I just want this to be fixed. To be cured,” he said.
“My therapist told me to have a hymn, any hymn that I wanted -- but to have that hymn at the ready so if I had any kind of homosexual thought, I could start singing this hymn to distract myself,” Glover said.
He said it worked for a time, but said “distracting yourself only works for so long.”
When he came out to his parents at 18, the Mormon church recommended a therapist. Instead of finding answers, he says he felt more angst, trauma and self-hatred.
Pima County Supervisor and democrat Richard Elias, introduced the ban that passed in a 3-2 vote split down party lines.
“There has to be an end to these kinds of practices that really damage our children for the rest of their lives,” Elias said.
The board heard every opinion, from all walks of life. From a mother who came up with a baby on her hip, saying she would love her daughter “even if she grows up to be LGBT, I will respect and honor and love her just as I do all LGBT people.” To a transgender woman who was an eagle scout and army ranger, to a southern baptist pastor.
"There are kids in my church that want to be helped! I'm a parent. I'm going to love my kid forever but please, don't take away my freedom to help my kids,” said Ps. Ed Eddingfield from First Southern Baptist in Tucson.
Homosexuality's been demonized by many faiths and demoralized by politics, cutting to the core of what many say defines our character.
“Even if you’re self-assured, the fact that your parents feel bad enough about you that they want to change you, is really a horrible thought,” Elias said.
“I always sought to have my mother's approval. I always sought my father's approval. And frankly, I felt bad when I let them down, “ Elias said.
Rich Wyler co-founded the "Journey into Manhood" weekend retreats 15 years ago.
"My life was saved by this kind of counseling. I was headed down a very destructive road & being gay did not work for me," he said.
Wyler calls himself a life coach, not a therapist and says he helps about 200 men all over the world every year find ways to manage their same sex attractions.
“The pressure is going the other way now culturally more than ever. You go to a therapist and they say, ‘well, you just have to be gay. That's who you are. You can't do anything about it. Why is that okay?” Wyler asked.
He says no one should be forced into therapy.
But he has seen parents try.
“I did send someone home once who said his mother was paying him to come,” he said.
“Sometimes a parent will call and I’ll tell them, as politely as possible, ‘Actually, I think it’s you who needs counseling,” Wyler said.
His program used to take teens as young as 17 with chaperones, and recently upped the youngest age from 18 to 21.
Wyler said he screens participants to ensure they are willing, saying they find the most success helping men with some level of bisexuality, steer towards the opposite sex and away from same sex attraction.
“Not everyone who comes to us discards a gay identity. Some are okay with a gay identity but still don’t want to live that out, for their own very personal reason. A lot of them want to have a wife and children, a traditional life, and we respect that,” Wyler said.
He said he’s not anti-gay, that this is about preserving an individual's right to choose.
And while the average age of participants in his program are 36, his problem with the Pima county ban is “They're taking away one of the primary ethical principles of the psychological profession, client self- determination.”
Matt Salmon, named after his father, the recently retired republican representative from Mesa, says conversion therapy for teens isn’t self-determination.
He says most teens who go through these programs are doing so because of pressure from their family, church, and community.
“I felt pressured to do it just because of my upbringing,” Salmon said.
He went through Wyler's retreat and a year and a half of conversion therapy when he was 17.
“It was definitely life-changing. And the reason for that, is, it set me on the path to become a child psychiatrist like I am today,” Salmon said.
He walked out on therapy and the Mormon church.
“I realized when I was done that I never wanted a child to have to experience this. I never wanted a child to feel like there was something wrong with them for being gay,” he said.
He says while conversion therapy doesn't change your sexual orientation, it does do serious psychological damage.
“There are still a lot of communities that believe that being gay is wrong and put a lot of pressure on individuals to try and change who they are, that it’s a problem to be fixed and corrected,” Salmon said.
His dad, who refused to support gay marriage in congress, says now that he's out of office, he'd rather not comment beyond saying he loves his son.
“I'd say that our love is even stronger than it ever was, and let maybe my smile, be enough of an answer,” said the younger Salmon.
Mormon and Gay is an official website for the church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints.
There are full testimonials from gay men and their wives talking about not acting on their same- sex attractions and being accepted and loved.
"I would say that it's a start," said Glover.
It's how Glover finally got to bring the subject back up again with his parents after nearly seven years, not talking about it at all.
“I just want what anyone wants,” he said.
“I just want to have a loving partner, possibly children, a steady life,” Glover said.
From the church to our community, to country, Glover says he hopes people will learn to look for our similarities instead of focusing on our differences.
“I don't' hate many things. But I hate that you would lead someone to believe that they can change a fundamental part of themselves,” said Glover.
Statements from Accredited medical and mental health organizations: The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Counseling Association.
Aug. 1 Pima Co. Board of Supervisors public testimony on banning conversion therapy for minors: http://pima.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=7
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