(RNS) – The week after I got out, my mom pulled me out of high school early to take me to meet a pastor who claimed to be walking with people toward liberation from homosexuality.
His name was Ricky Chelette and he is the executive director of Living Hope Ministries in Arlington, Texas. At the time, Ricky described Living Hope as an “old gay ministry,” a community that helped people find “healing” from their same-sex attractions.
When I was 16, I had two options: leave my house and the only life I have ever known or try to get straight. So began my decade of Christian conversion therapy.
Until my mid-twenties, I met Ricky for advice every week, even though he was not a therapist and had no therapeutic training. I attended Living Hope’s Thursday night support group, which was like group therapy, where a volunteer with no therapeutic training counseled each of us in our efforts to heal “wounds” that they said made us gay.
I have been to the Exodus International Freedom Conference every summer, to the Live the Hope Youth Retreats every winter. I even lived in their residential program at “Hope House” for a few years – all in an effort to get rid of my innate desire to love and be loved by other women.
To date, 20 states have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, thanks to the tireless work of organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Born Perfect campaign and The Trevor Project. These laws protect young people under the age of 18 from undergoing conversion therapy with a licensed therapist.
This is a critical step in the work to protect vulnerable young gay men, and I hope bans will be enacted in all states across the country in the years to come. When the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that a practice is harmful, it should not be a question of whether young people should be protected from being forced into it.
But as important as the conversion therapy bans for minors are, these laws do not protect young people who are taken to religious programs like Living Hope, which is the primary venue for conversion therapy. The Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law estimates that while 16,000 LGBT youth who are currently between 13 and 17 years old will receive conversion therapy from a licensed therapist before the age of 18, three times as many (57,000) will be there. submitted by religious or spiritual advisers. The bans on conversion therapy do not apply to these organizations because they are protected by religious freedom laws.
If the bans can’t stop it, then what will it take for organizations like Living Hope – one of the countless organizations currently practicing conversion therapy in religious settings across the world – to stop harming? to minors?
First, parents of young homosexuals need to know their children for a long time so that they approve and accept them. I frequently hear from teens on Instagram and TikTok who are currently in conversion therapy mainly because they fear losing everyone they love if they stop trying to change. They tell me that they are riddled with anxiety and often self-harm, but that they can’t cope with the thought of devastating their parents by learning that they can’t lead normal lives.
Parents love their children. I don’t think they would willingly send their children to places that they know would harm them. They probably don’t realize that in these pastoral counseling meetings with leaders like Ricky, their teens are asked to describe their sexual fantasies in detail and forced to share private matters such as masturbation and exploration habits with adults. sexual.
Certainly, parents would not feel comfortable with an adult with no professional counseling training who delves into their teenager’s subconscious for potential ‘root causes’ of their same-sex attractions and interference in their sexual fantasies. These families should know that there are vibrant Christian communities that will enthusiastically welcome their gay children. There are faithful pastors and priests who will affirm the impulses of parents to love and enjoy their children unconditionally. It is the particular religious communities of the parents – not God and not the whole Christian church – who encourage them to make choices that harm their children.
Second, no matter where churches are on the LGBTQ affirmation spectrum, they can withdraw financial support from any organizations that still practice conversion therapy on minors. We know that young people who undergo conversion therapy report more than twice as many suicide attempts as those who do not.
Granted, the benevolent people who attend churches like The Village Church and Watermark Church – trendy mega-churches in North Dallas with multiple campuses – and church planting giant Antioch Church in Waco, where attend HGTV celebrities Chip and Joanna Gaines, would not approve of their donations being used to support organizations that make young people twice as likely to attempt suicide. Personally, I know and love too many kind-hearted Christians who attend these churches to believe that they would willingly support a practice that leads to death – emotional death, relationship death, spiritual death, and in some cases death. physical.
Finally, Christians need to know that they can practice their faith with conviction and warmly embrace LGBTQ people in their communities. We see this happening with Christian communities like the Mama Bears, where their faith has inspired them to create places of belonging for queer people. Christians can watch films like the new Netflix Original “Pray Away” which, through interviews with former leaders who now regret the years they spent promoting it, shows the damage done by conversion therapy.
They can listen to the stories of gay Christians like me as they read my memoir, “Outlove,” with openness and curiosity. And whatever their beliefs, they can tell the LGBTQ people in their lives that God sees them, that God loves them, and that they are a gift to those who know them.
Gay people in religious communities want to live with integrity. They don’t need to be managed or sent to anonymous recovery groups like Living Hope. They just need to be invited to live in the light among those they know and love.
(Julie Rodgers is the author of “Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story(Broad-leaf books). Writer, speaker and leader of the movement for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in Christian communities, she is featured in “Pray Away”, A Netflix Original presented by Ryan Murphy, a documentary on the “Pray Gay” movement. The opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)