“Ex-Gay” Therapy Revealed in Prop. 8 Trial

“I’m gay. I’m short and half Hispanic those things aren’t going to change.”

Those are the words Ryan Kendall uttered in a federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday as the trial over whether or not to overturn Proposition 8 that stripped gays and lesbians of their right to marry in California, got into its second week.

Kendall took the stand to recount his harsh treatment in an “ex-gay ministry.” His deeply religious parents forced him into so-called “reparative therapy” after finding a note that Kendall had written to himself confessing his sexual orientation at the age of 13. Kendall said his parents “flipped out, (they were) very upset, yelling. I don’t remember a lot of what they said, but it was pretty scary the level of their reaction. I remember my mother telling me I was going to burn in hell.”

From there, Kendall was shipped off to a Christian therapist for treatment to become a heterosexual. When that therapy didn’t work, Kendall was turned over to Joseph Nicolosi with NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

While at NARTH, Kendall said his family rejected him:

I went to NARTH from 14-16. My entire life changed. Before NARTH, parents put notes in my lunch, made my lunch. After, they abused me emotionally. Mother told me she hated me, that I was disgusting, repulsive. She wished she’d had an abortion rather than having a gay son. She said she wished I’d had Down’s syndrome or been born retarded.

Kendall couldn’t take the abuse – or the therapy – and at age 16, became a ward of the state.

I was a sixteen-year-old kid. I had just lost everything. I walked in and out of jobs and schools. I was extremely suicidal. Turned to drugs to escape. Things did not get better (he’s very choked up). Period lasted 4 or 5 years. Struggle for survival; not able to support myself. When my healthcare ran out, I went to emergency rooms.

The good news, if there is any in this sordid story, is that Kendall has landed on his feet. At 26, he now has a stable job and has reconciled his spirituality and sexuality on his own. He’s no bleeding heart liberal, though, but a member of the Log Cabin Republicans.

The defense objected to Kendall being able to tell his story on relevance grounds, but the judge disagreed, saying they had opened the door to the “subjects of sexuality as a conscious choice and people’s ability to successfully change their sexual orientation in their opening testimony. ‘It seems to me that you’ve raised the very issue to which the witness is going to testify,’ (U.S. District Judge Vaughn) Walker said, adding that Kendall’s first-hand account would be ‘very helpful.'”

Kendall’s story — not an aberration — shed much-needed light on the dangers of “ex-gay” therapy. The abuses of of the “therapy” led the American Psychological Association to conclude that “there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.”

For all the years that NARTH and other “ex-gay ministries” have been around, they have but a handful of “success” stories to share with the world. (Usually, those “success” stories go on to be paid, professional ex-gays, giving speeches and trading on their “cure.”) Their “therapy” is based on outdated or repudiated studies, and often consists of enforcing strict gender roles by teaching men to be more masculine and women to be more feminine. NARTH, in particular, continues to use the discredited views that parents can turn their kids gay.

Dr. Nicolosi, for example, often tells audiences that people are gay because they have a rift with a same-sex parent or a have domineering opposite sex parent. It has been decades since any serious scientific body subscribed to these views and there is no contemporary research to uphold these anachronistic theories. Yet, NARTH’s co-founder Dr. Joseph Nicolosi repeats the empty mantra, “We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.”

In fact, the scientific consensus against “curing” homosexuality has led most “ex-gay” outfits around the country to back off of the offer to turn a homosexual into a heterosexual. Instead, they now simply promise those who have “unwanted same-sex sexual attraction” a chance to repress or “overcome” those urges – but not to “cure” them of their orientation.

What the proceedings are making startlingly clear, however, is how being branded “sick” and “sinful” by religious leaders has led directly to the discrimination against gay and lesbian people, including being denied the right to marry. One exchange, presented by videotaped deposition testimony between plaintiff’s attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. and Dr. Paul Nathanson, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, is particularly telling:

Boutrous: What is proportion of those who voted yes on Prop. 8 were motivated by religious reasons?

Nathanson: About half.

B: Would you agree over the past fifty years, religion and society have been hostile to homosexuals? And has it led to discrimination? And violence against homosexuals?

N: Yes to all.

B: Do you believe that the teaching of certain religions that homosexuality is a sin and abomination leads to gay bashing?

N: Yes.

B: Do you believe that the primary cause of gay bashing is religion?

N: In a direct sense yes. Religious hostility to homosexual behavior has roots other than religion.

B: Was religion used to justify hostility and prejudice against blacks?

N: Yes.

B: Was this prejudice used to “protect families”?

N: Yes.

B: Were the same arguments used against women (family protection)?

N: Yes.

The danger of using religious arguments to deny rights to a certain set of people is on full display in the trial. Anti-gay religious advocates argue that they want to “protect the family” by denying marriage equality. However, it is plain that religious opposition to homosexuality tears at the fabric of the very family the religious right says they want to preserve. Kendall, and many like him, have been psychically scarred by the “therapy” forced on them, their self-identity vilified, their self-esteem demolished, their family destroyed, all in the name of God.

Kendall was finally honest with himself. He gained his life and lost his family. Others are not as brave. Some will acquiesce to society’s wishes and play along – pretending to be cured.

During (defense attorney) Flynn’s redirect, he asked Kendall if he had met any “successful” conversion therapy patients during his time at NARTH. “During one of our group therapy sessions, Nicolosi trotted out his perfect patient, a guy named Kelly,” Kendall said. “But after Nicolosi left, Kelly told me that he was going out to a gay bar that night.” The gallery erupted in laughter.

It would be funny, if it weren’t so terribly sad.