The “ex-gay therapy” movement has been dealt a number of defeats recently, but those still administering the harmful treatment are attempting some new branding strategies to continue advancing their debunked ideas. The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) has long been the professional organization for ex-gay therapists across the country, but it announced Wednesday that NARTH will now be folded into a larger “Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity” (ATCSI). Here’s the fake news video that autoplays on the Alliance’s new website announcing the change:
The ATCSI claims to be committed to “preserving the right of individuals to obtain the services of a therapist who honors their values, advocating for integrity and objectivity in social science research, and ensuring that competent licensed, professional assistance is available for persons who experience unwanted homosexual (same-sex) attractions (SSA).”
The organization contains five divisions, including one focused on public education and client rights, a medical division for doctors who don’t normally practice ex-gay therapy, a division dedicated to “family, faith, and ethics,” and then NARTH’s two original focuses, supporting ex-gay clinicians and conducting research to try to advance the ex-gay cause.
The new legal and advocacy focus — including the idea that individuals have a right to a therapist of their choice — reflects the movement’s recent setbacks, particularly in the courts. Attempts to overturn California and New Jersey’s laws banning the treatment for minors have failed, and the Supreme Court was not interested in reconsidering the lower court’s decisions. The Alliance specifically highlights its work with the Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom, who have represented ex-gay therapists trying challenge those bans. A Jewish ex-gay ministry known as JONAH also faces a suit by two former clients seeking damages for consumer fraud.
At the same time, many conservatives have moved away from advocating for ex-gay therapy and are instead promoting messages of celibacy. Rather than encouraging people with same-sex orientations to “change” and try to live a heterosexual life, religious groups that condemn homosexuality are increasingly suggesting that to be right with God, people don’t have to disavow a gay identity, but commit to never acting on it. While equally shame-based, it is an approach that acknowledges that sexual orientation cannot be changed and distances itself from NARTH’s “reparative therapy” approaches.
ATCSI’s approach tries to capitalize on religious opposition to homosexuality and direct people back toward ex-gay therapy, filling in the gap from the shuttering of Exodus International, which was once the largest umbrella organization of ex-gay ministries. Its “Ethics, Family & Faith Division” uses the Bible’s condemnations of homosexuality to challenge the “born this way” thinking about sexuality and suggest that same-sex attractions are so unnatural that they can and should be corrected. Though many of NARTH’s members have long been faith-based therapists, this is a notable step away from its previous claims to not be a religious organization.
Truth Wins Out (TWO), an organization that primarily counters ex-gay advocacy, responded to the rebranding launch by noting many of the blemishes on NARTH’s reputation, including some of the most outlandish claims made by its members. These include comparing gay people to addicts, suggesting that there is a connection between muscle weakness and homosexuality, and encouraging patriarchal sexism in families. TWO also notes that another group that advocates on behalf of ex-gay therapy, PFOX, has similarly taken on a more legal slant to try to defend the treatment from being banned under the law.
As the public’s understanding of gay people has grown, the idea that sexual orientation can change has become more fringe. Still, just two months ago, the Texas Republican Party endorsed ex-gay therapy in its official platform. The movement may be on its last legs, but the therapy still has proponents who reject the evidence that it has a lasting harmful impact on its victims.