Can conversion therapy get a fair hearing in mainstream press? Short answer: No

It wasn’t that long ago that people who wished not to be gay were involved in “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy.” Not everyone welcomed same-sex attraction and those who didn’t found therapists who tried to help them.

Very few people were trying to "pray the gay away," but many did believe that human sexuality is a spectrum (as in the Kinsey scale) of orientations and that it was possible to modify emotions and behaviors.

Quite a few churches –- which had no other ideas about how to handle the gay folks in their midst –- believed in this therapy and referred people to it. Back in the 1990s, I knew folks who either worked in this field or were allied with those who did. For most churches, it was the only way out for people who didn’t want to engage in behavior that traditional forms of the major world religions considered to be sinful.

That was then. The Barack Obama administration went to war against the therapy during its eight years in power and Democrats haven’t given up the ship, according to this Washington Post piece.

The big legal question: What happens with children and young adults? What role can parents play in this process?

Democratic lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would ban the practice of “conversion therapy,” treatments that historically have targeted the LGBT community and claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act of 2017 was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), along with Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). About 70 other members of Congress, all Democrats, have said they support the bill, which would allow the Federal Trade Commission to classify conversion therapy and its practitioners as fraudulent.
“The bill is very simple,” Lieu told The Washington Post. “It says it is fraud if you treat someone for a condition that doesn’t exist and there’s no medical condition known as being gay. LGBTQ people were born perfect; there is nothing to treat them for. And by calling this what it should be, which is fraud, it would effectively shut down most of the organizations.”
Conversion therapy, also referred to as “reparative therapy” or “ex-gay therapy,” purports to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation. Highly controversial, the practice has been decried by dozens of mental health, medical and LGBT rights groups as harmful and misleading. Nevertheless, very few states have passed legislation banning it, one reason being that it’d limit parents from prescribing it for their children.

The article goes on to tell the history of reparative therapy beginning in the 1950s until recent years; how the gay community had lobbied successfully against it to the point where it’s outlawed in several states but that the election of President Donald Trump had put a crimp in those plans.

The article also quoted a Family Research Council spokesman opposing anti-therapy legislation and saying he hoped Republicans would fight it as well.

The article then named various members or allies of the Trump administration: Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as either opposing conversion therapy or equivocating on it. The piece then ends with a statement by the Human Rights Campaign praising the legislation, then added a tweet by Chelsea Clinton and a quote by a gay legislator from New Mexico, both trashing reparative therapy.

As tmatt noted about a similar Post piece, there wasn’t much offered up in terms of a competing point of view. All the compelling, personal quotes were lined up on one side. The one quote against the law was taken from an ABC broadcast. The FRC headquarters isn’t even a mile from the Post’s office. Surely the reporter could have put in a call to get an original quote?

However, there was a sidebar about a group of Illinois pastors saying that clergy should be exempt from any law forbidding efforts to change a minor’s sexual orientation and behavior.

Here, clergy were given space to explain their views against the anti-conversion-therapy laws. It was easy to understand their point: That if a person didn’t want to be gay because of their religious beliefs, clergy had a right to try to help them.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If it’s OK to encourage youth to “come out” as gay, why isn’t it OK to encourage other youth who wish to change their orientation and held onto a hope that change is possible?

For journalists, the key is that there is a debate going on here, with people asking critical questions about parental and individual rights. Why not cover the debate?

As always, the comments are instructive and one brought up an interesting point. Why outlaw therapy against a condition that doesn’t exist? There are all sorts of folks out there, ranging from feng shui to palm reading, that are suspect but there are no laws against them, the writer said.

What the article could have emphasized was that yes, the popular culture in the 21st century believes there is nothing wrong with gay sex but not everyone is marching to that tune. Many people believe that the "born this way" DNA question has been answered, while others do not.

Many of the groups that disagree with this mindset are religious groups. Journalists should note that there are First Amendment issues there, as well.

So, if conversion therapy is outlawed, where does that leave religious counselors? Fined? In jail? Will there still be therapists doing reparative therapy underground? And are there any out there who are still doing so? What about LGBTQ adults who seek counseling on their own?

There’s been a lot of ink out there on gay people who feel abused by reparative therapy but few-to-no interviews of therapists who believe the practice works nor of homosexuals (or people who consider themselves ex-homosexuals) who said that it helped them.

After more than three decades in the media, I can understand why many are upset with us. When a case is tried and ruled on in the media and no opposing voices are heard, is it small wonder that some readers feel that bias in written deep in our journalistic DNA? 

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