A National Public Radio segment this morning suggested that ex-gay therapy is still up for “debate,” misrepresenting it as a “controversy” on which “the jury is still out.” Even though ex-gay therapy is roundly condemned by professional medical organizations as ineffective and harmful, the segment attempted to create a false balance by including stories from both sides of the “debate.” Ex-gay Rich Wyler, founder of People Can Change, had the opportunity to reiterate many untrue ex-gay talking points, including unfounded “causes” for a gay orientation, the misguided notion that it’s ethical to support a patient who wants ex-gay therapy, and a completely inaccurate comparison between ex-gay and transgender patients. Ex-gay survivor Peterson Toscano countered by explaining the traumatic harm he faced in ex-gay therapy, but many of Wyler’s points went unaddressed. Take a listen:
The reality is that there is no debate about ex-gay therapy, and by providing a platform for Wyler to continue propagating the myths about its potential, NPR is contributing to a culture of harm. The ex-gay movement suggests many supposed “causes” for a same-sex orientation — Wyler mentions how his mother was “domineering and controlling” and his father was emotionally absent — but there is no proven connection between sexual orientation and such vague notions of gender stereotypes. Ex-gay proponents offer many generic, invalid explanations for sexual orientation to coax people to buy in to the therapy’s outcomes, but none of them reflect any actual psychological research. Thus, it’s disconcerting that NPR reported Wyler’s matter-of-fact story without caveat.
As both Toscano and psychologist Lee Beckstead explained, people can be convinced to believe their sexual orientations have changed through repression, but that doesn’t mean they actually have. In fact, a recent Regent University study found that for ex-gays living in opposite-sex marriages, their sexual attraction to the same sex actually increased over the time they were married. Disturbingly, young people are particularly susceptible to the harmful false promises of ex-gay therapy. This morning’s NPR feature allowed those false promises to further spread in the media under the guise of a “controversial debate” that nobody’s having.
While ex-gays like Wyler are certainly entitled to believe what they will about their identities, NPR has no obligation to highlight their harmful, anti-scientific, and anti-gay views as having any merit. The responsible journalist would have done the opposite.
Full disclosure: I co-host a weekly podcast with Peterson Toscano.