16 Awful Things Done in the Name of Conversion Therapy

So called "gay conversion therapy," whereby people who have come out or are thought to be gay are subjected to therapy to get them to renounce their feelings, has always been extremely controversial. But a 2015 speech by President Obama calling for it to be banned brought it into the mainstream - and lifted the lid off a process that's dehumanizing, dangerous, and ineffective.

Since the late 1800s, medical and psychological ways to "cure" homosexuality have been sought out, with everything from aversion therapy to surgery tried. It's also been embraced by evangelical Protestants and Baptists, who often send their children to camps and unlicensed Christian therapists in order to rid them of homosexual feelings.

But none of these techniques have ever been proven to work, and many of the teens who've been coerced into undergoing them have struggled with depression and self-harm. A number of gay conversion proponents have later themselves been caught up in gay scandals, and more states are banning it in children.

Here are some of the worst abuses of the gay conversion movement, from quack psychiatry to beatings to rank hypocrisy.

  • Electroshock Therapy

    In its early days, gay conversion therapy was carried out in a manner more akin to torture than therapy. A number of brutal techniques were used in attempts to “convert” gay people into straight people, and these continued well into the 1970s. Chief among these was electroshock therapy, used to short out certain brain pathways and make the patient "forget" they were gay. This had virtually no effect on patients.
  • Surgery on the Unwilling

    Among the horrors of the early days of treating homosexuality were a number of surgeries performed on both willing and unwilling patients. These included procedures such as hysterectomy, ovariectomy, clitoridectomy, physical castration, vasectomy, pudic nerve surgery, and lobotomy.

    Many of these treatments were performed under the guise of sterilizing “degenerates” and taking them out of the gene pool – a socially acceptable form of eugenics.
  • Quack Psychology

    Conversion therapy has advanced numerous pseudoscientific ideas in the field of psychotherapy, some of which have been debunked for decades. Some of these include watching heterosexual pornography, accusing patients' parents of being overbearing or abusive and advocating boys distance themselves from female friends. 

    Later attempts at gay conversion through therapy have involved therapists abusing the trust of their patients by forcing them to perform sexual acts in order to “reclaim” their orientation. Mainstream professional organizations related to psychology have rejected all of these techniques.
  • Advising "Patients" to Disconnect from Loved Ones

    26-year-old Mathew Shurka underwent six years of conversion therapy, including being forced to see unlicensed therapists, being given unprescribed Viagra pills by his father, and being put through ineffective aversion treatments.

    As part of this, he was forbidden from seeing his mother and sisters for over three years, to help “rid” him of “effeminate behavior.” The treatments failed, and Shurka is now a spokesman for the National Center for Lesbian Rights’s anti-conversion therapy campaign.