With a new wave of legislative bans on conversion therapy advancing in various states, the Christian extremists who still believe it’s possible to “pray away the gay” have an amusing new approach to opposing these bills. These bans, they say, are “Must Stay Gay” bills and they should be opposed.
In a press release from PFOX, “Parents and Friends of Ex-gays & Gays” (a sad parody of PFLAG), executive director Regina Griggs called these “Must Stay Gay” bills “the worst infringement on people’s rights since Jim Crow.” Echoing the myth that sexual abuse can somehow turn kids gay and/or transgender, she lambasted the infringement on parental rights:
What gives the state the right to tell parents they cannot get help unless it comes from counselors who promote homosexual or transgender identities over heterosexuality? This is the case even if the child was a molestation victim. How can this be happening in America? This compulsory homosexuality and transgenderism is the worst infringement on people’s rights since Jim Crow.
Jim Crow, of course, was the series of laws that enforced so-called “separate but equal” racial segregation in all public spaces throughout former Confederate states. How protecting kids from the shaming abuse of conversion therapy is anything like society-wide segregation Griggs does not specify.
But gay activists “deliberately suppress all the ex-gay success stories while telling outright lies about electric shock and other methods that exist only in their imagination,” she said.
The “Must Stay Gay” framing appears to have originated last week in an article by Michael Brown, another anti-LGBTQ activist who has a radio show and column. His target was California bill AB 2943, which would ban conversion therapy for adults as opposed to just minors, as other bills have done. “This California assault on our most fundamental freedoms is simply the latest manifestation of LGBT activism,” he claimed. “As I and others have warned incessantly for many years, those who came out of the closet want to put us in the closet. Do you believe me now?”
He continued, “And while critics of any kind of change therapy mocked us with the (false) claim that we were trying to ‘pray away the gay,’ these same critics now want to pass a law that says, ‘You must stay gay’ (or, ‘gender confused’).” Brown said there are “thousands of ex-gays,” though he provided no evidence.
He also insisted “there is no definitive proof” that conversion therapy is any more harmful than counseling for substance abuse, overeating, or depression. His source for that claim was Anne Paulk, who identifies as an ex-lesbian. When Exodus International, the massive umbrella organization for ex-gay therapy efforts, said in 2012 it would no longer try to “cure” homosexuality (eventually shutting down entirely in 2013), Paulk formed a splinter group called the Restored Hope Network to continue advocating for the shame-based treatment. She and her ex-husband John Paulk used to be an ex-gay advocacy duo, but in 2013 — as her new efforts were ramping up — he apologized for having ever promoted conversion therapy and admitted it had never changed his orientation; he was still gay.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association conducted a thorough review of all the available research on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). They found no evidence that such efforts were successful and stated that they also involve some risk of harm. The group Beyond Ex-Gay has likewise collected stories from ex-gay survivors, who say they experienced shame, depression, fear, anger, lowered self-esteem, feelings of failure and even suicidal thinking as a result of being pressured to change their sexual orientation.
The “Must Stay Gay” framing seems to be catching on. Janet Meffered, an anti-LGBTQ activist with a daily show on American Family Radio echoed the language in a plea to her followers to contact California lawmakers. She noted that she was made aware of the bill by David Pickup, an ex-gay therapist who has been at the forefront of opposing these bills. He also used “Must Stay Gay” to describe the legislation.
It’s unclear that the new framing will have any effect except to help such bills along. The California bill protecting adults has advanced out of committee, a Maryland bill protecting minors is just waiting for the governor’s signature, and the Hawaii House of Representatives has also approved a bill protecting minors. Ten states (including California), Washington, D.C., and several other cities already have such laws protecting minors.