SB988 would have stopped reparative therapy for minors in Virginia.
For over 30 years I was a born-again, evangelical Christian. The most poignant of that time, however, was the six years I spent in ex-gay ministry. Those six years have forever redefined my life.
In my early teens, I was deeply conflicted between my sexual orientation and faith, both of which were inextricably intertwined in my core. If something had to go, it was the homosexuality. More than anything, I wanted to please God and live a normal life. Growing up in church, I knew well and good what both God and my family expected of me. The struggle to remain faithful in word and deed ate at my soul day and night. After one suicide attempt, years of depression and anxiety, I contacted Love in Action for help. They were the premier ex-gay ministry at the time.
Once in therapy, I began to understand from the ministry’s perspective what caused my homosexuality. I learned how to pray and overcome it, I declared myself free from homosexual temptation after the one-year residential program. I joined the ministry staff six months later. For the next five years I traveled the country, speaking in churches and colleges, and gave interviews on radio and television about “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” I was undeterred, answering my critics along the way and declaring that change is truly possible.
In 1995, I married my wife and we eventually had two children. I was a success story of conversion therapy, a testimony to the greatness of God, and a stain on the LGBT community. Had the senate called on me as a witness, I would have told my story proudly, thanking God for the resource that was available to me and begging politicians not to take it away from young people who need it the most.
But then life happened. Once out of the spotlight, raising my family in suburbia and continuing to keep the faith, reality set in. I wasn’t attracted to my wife. All of the years of prayer, Bible reading and accountability only taught me to suppress the fact that I was gay. Now in my 30’s, and responsible for three more lives, I felt even more desperate than before. After six and a half years of marriage, my wife said she couldn’t do it anymore and she left.
I spiraled deeper into depression, feeling that I had not only failed as a Christian, but now as an ex-gay leader, a husband, and a parent. For the next six years the shame of failure caused me to isolate from practically everyone I knew. When my children weren’t with me, my nights were spent alone. I fantasized about holding a gun to my head and pulling the trigger until I fell asleep. I couldn’t leave my kids, but at the same time I felt too much of a failure to be their father.
Then, after years of real therapy, a lot of research and earning my college degrees along the way, I realized that the issue was never about me being gay, something over which I had no control. The real problem is that those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender have been demonized by our culture.
The misinformation proliferated by groups such as the Family Research Council, the Family Research Institute, Focus on the Family, and many on the far right of politics and religion, perpetuate the idea that homosexuality can be changed. Sadly, some of that information came from people like me and groups like Love in Action. However, there is not an ounce of peer-reviewed, reputable research to suggest sexuality is changeable. In fact, most organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy have released statements condemning the practice of reparative therapy.
In 2014, nine former leaders and founders of conversion therapy signed a statement that said, in part:
Together we represent more than half a century of experience, so few people are more knowledgeable about the ineffectiveness and harm of conversion therapy. We know first-hand the terrible emotional and spiritual damage it can cause, especially for LGBT youth. We once believed that there was something morally wrong and psychologically “broken” about being LGBT. We know better now… As former “ex-gay” leaders, having witnessed the incredible harm done to those who attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we join together in calling for a ban on conversion therapy.
I was disturbed to hear that the Virginia Senate let Senate Bill 988 die. But more disturbing was that the death of this legislation fell along party lines. Why? Are you choosing to remain willfully ignorant about the facts? Are you blinded by your personal faith? Are you afraid of losing the financial support of your constituents?
One of the biggest influences on coming to terms with my sexual orientation was that of my children. I knew I would never want them to despise their own existence, be denied love, or told they were never good enough for God. I would never want them to spend years trying to “get fixed,” so focused on themselves as a problem that they were never able to be productive members of society, and never able to help others with the incredible gifts they have.
Your decision to kill SB 988 was a decision to continue putting vulnerable LGBT youth at risk, confirming that they are never good enough for their families, never acceptable to God as they are, and unfit for society. Your decision to allow SB 988 to die allows fearful, misinformed parents to subject their children to fearful, misinformed therapists who have little accountability from their professional communities.
As a former leader and survivor of the ex-gay movement, I ask you to look at this issue again. Please help make the barbaric practice of reparative therapy a part of America’s past, not its future.