Gay son of "conversion therapy" founder on coming out to his dad

Dr. Charles Socarides thought being gay was a curable mental illness. Sadly, having a gay son didn't change that

By Katie McDonough

Published April 8, 2013 6:40PM (EDT)


Richard Socarides is an openly gay attorney, writer and commentator who served as President Clinton's senior adviser on gay rights. He also happens to be the son of Charles Socarides, one of the controversial founders of so-called gay conversion therapy.

His father's status as a preeminent scholar on the "gay cure" made coming out a daunting prospect, to say the very least. And yet, Richard did it. After seeking advice from family, friends and his therapist, Richard sat down with his father and had "the talk":

I sat down and said, 'Dad, I think this is something we've known for some time together, but I'm gay and we have to find a way to be more honest with each other about this.' He was angry, but he certainly wasn't surprised and angry, and he was kind of a little surprised. So I kind of said I'm going to give you some time to think about it, to take this one, and I left. It did not last a long time and it did not have a good ending, at that moment.

After a few months of silence from his father, Richard received a letter of apology, expressing Charles' desire for his son's happiness. Richard calls the letter a "great moment," but the elder Socarides never renounced the discredited therapy he helped establish, and their relationship remained strained as a result.

Watch the rest of Richard's story, which, in the understatement of the century, he calls "a little stranger than most" here:

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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