Readers respond to Salon's series on "reparative therapy" for gays and lesbians. Plus: The National Association of Social Workers clarifies its stance on the practice.

Published July 22, 2005 7:49PM (EDT)

[Read Mark Benjamin's four-part series on "reparative therapy": "Turning Off Gays," "My Gay Therapy Session," "Getting Straight With God," and "True Confessions."]

The National Association of Social Workers, along with other leading mental health associations, stands strong in our opposition to reparative therapies for lesbians and gay men.

Homosexuals seek mental health services for many reasons, often for help with the negative circumstances and discrimination they face on a daily basis

This series of stories on Salon seems to indicate that social workers are taking the lead in reparative therapy. This is completely false. Professional social workers are required to adhere to a code of ethics. This code notes that social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. NASW believes that reparative therapy holds no therapeutic value for social work clients.

-- Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPH
NASW executive director

Thanks for this compelling series. I'm glad that your writers are using the term "Christian right" to describe the Christians who think gay men and women need to be "healed" or that gay people who are in relationships are "sinning" or out of God's will.

There are many of us who shape their lives around our faith in and knowledge of Jesus who don't agree with the Christian right on a number of issues, including this one.

I hope that fellow Salon readers who are gay will know that they are warmly welcome at a number of Christian churches, including the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church.

I am happy to say that I see the Christian left -- progressive Christians -- beginning to make our voices heard above the din generated by far-right Christians. There are a lot of us who find that knowing Jesus makes us less judgmental than before we knew him and more full of love and acceptance of others.

-- Jennifer Grant

I read Mark Benjamin's four-part series on Christian reparative ministries with great interest. As an out gay man, my long journey to where I am has taken me through several of the ministries mentioned.

For most of the guys I met in those situations, sexuality was viewed as a symptom of a larger issue. Like all the rest of us, they were seeking peace, fulfillment, joy and some sort of meaning to their lives that they were not finding in the gay world. None of them proclaimed to be "cured" of homosexuality, but many (not all) seem to lead relatively content lives. Of course they, like all the rest of us, still harbor at least some desires they wish to escape.

While I have taken a different course than those at Exodus et al. would want, I can still hold some respect for some of the people who chose faith over sexuality.

-- Pete Bellande

I am a 37-year-old bisexual woman who studied piano for 20 years. The Christian counselor's claim that a "high correlation between poor eye-hand coordination and same-sex attraction" exists is ingenious! This certainly explains the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Liberace, and Billie Jean King.

-- Jacquelynn Stephens

I'm a 40-year-old Christian gay man with an awesome partner and loving family. My parents and both sisters and I are "born again." As a Christian, I try to love myself and others unconditionally and don't try to change them to how I think they should be.

Thanks for this series of articles on reparative ministry groups like Exodus. Your coverage is fair and neutral. I'm sure many of these people have genuinely good intentions, while others are simply troubled gays and lesbians with a lot of self-hatred.

Self-hatred exists whether you are gay or straight, but if someone can love himself more through participation in these ministries, then good for them.

But I do have to laugh at the straight people who take part in these ministries and boldly lecture others on a topic they know nothing about -- being gay.

-- Keith Holden

How pathetic! Assigning a heterosexual writer to "pretend" to be gay? Is Salon so out of touch with the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered community that you couldn't find a genuinely gay-identified person to write this piece? I am offended that those of us who've paid a price to claim an integral part of our lives are cast to the side in favor of a writer who cannot and will never know the dimensions of coming out.

--Paul Douglas

This piece almost sounded like the "conversion" episode from "Seinfeld," where Elaine tries to get a gay man to "switch teams." Great piece of investigative journalism about the absurdity of the religious right's agenda. And if you encounter any "reparative therapies" for presidents of the United States who lie, cheat and deceive the American people -- I'm all for that.

-- Bill Trembley

I don't mean to be politically incorrect, but isn't it possible that a part of gay men and women could be gay because of psychological reasons similar to those described by Dr. Levy? I'm not suggesting that this would have to be treated, but I am suggesting that there could be many types of gay men and women, just as there are many types of straight men and women.

The formative years of our childhood shape us all into who we are; is it not possible that one way of "becoming gay," if one can even say that, is because of these kinds of relationships with parents? Frankly, I think that everyone should be free to love whoever they want -- whatever their reasons for being gay, straight, etc. -- and to marry whoever they want and to not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. But are we being too rash in dismissing Dr. Levy's theories as totally wrong? If we are willing to accept that very "strong and independent" moms can influence their daughters to be the same, why must homosexuality be necessarily genetic? It should be just as acceptable whether it's psychological or simply a choice.

-- Eugenia Shlimovich

When I read articles about these throwback organizations and their dogma, I am comforted by the knowledge that nature produces gays. Not bad parents, or overly loving parents, or molesting priests, or loneliness, or too many camp movies. Nature produces us, the same way it produces left-handedness and intelligence, and musicality -- and for the same multiple and mysterious reasons. If centuries of murderous persecution could not erase us from the human spectrum, therapies like these will not either. Every generation will have some of us, no matter what social forces attempt to intervene. Every generation and every culture.

-- Elaine Sutherland

I am homosexual, and I spent four months living, along with my mother, on the compounds of a Christian deliverance ministry. These people were quite crazy; they pretended that taking prescription drugs was a drug habit. This was particularly bad because my mother has bipolar disorder.

The reason my mother moved there was because of me. We were fundamentalist Christians, very extreme in our faith. But from the age of 6 or 7, I wanted to be a woman. The problem is, I am a man, and my mother was not pleased by my femininity. Even today she still resents it. So I hid it, telling myself I was straight.

After the deliverance ministry, I was even convinced that I was straight ... and I hated myself for reasons I did not know. Yet I was still looking at dashing men whenever I saw them. But, since I had studied sociology, I knew even when I was a teenager that the ministry was little more than a cult, and a rather dangerous one.

So, my faith died. Only, I had a happy ending to this story. Right after I accepted that God is evil and that the Bible is the work of men, I found something that I believe in. I discovered the divine feminine in the religion of Wicca, worshipping nature and the world around me, rather than wasting energy by denying life in favor of an eternal life that shall never come to pass. Being a Wiccan did the best things for me; it gave me peace.

One of my favorite counter-statements to Christians who try to preach to me now is to inform them that slavery and mistreatment of women was considered the order of the Bible, too.

-- Franklin Newman

I am a left-leaning person on a great many issues, but I guess my problem with the left these days is that they display the same smug hubris of the right.

Using phrases like "netherworld" to describe these Christian ministries is really uncalled for. Whether or not you agree with the Exodus group and their ideals and outcomes, they really truly believe that they are helping someone live a better life.

Whether or not you agree with them, there are a lot of gays who seek them out because they feel uncomfortable with who they are. You portray those gays as victims. That is far from the truth. Anyone seeking help is making an active decision to do something about what ails them. They are not victims. They may have made a choice that did not pan out as expected, but they are not victims.

Personally, I think you are born gay. I also think you can be gay and be a Christian. I don't condemn the gays for being gay, or groups that try to help them out of being gay.

I think Salon should lighten up. After all, Exodus is not kidnapping these people and forcing hetero conversion on them. Maybe their success rate isn't so hot. Most drug rehabs don't work in the long run either. Ultimately, people are who they are and have their predilections. Some like cheesecake too much. Some like coke too much. And some like Brad Pitt too much. We are who we are.

-- Tiffany Lach

By Salon Staff

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