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16 Awful Things Done in the Name of Conversion Therapy

Updated April 23, 2019 85.6k views16 items

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.

  • Exorcisms

    While not a therapy per se, one of the most extreme modern practices of gay conversion is the debunked and dangerous practice of exorcism. In 2009, Manifested Glory Ministries was sharply criticized when a 20 minute YouTube video showed a 16-year-old being subjected to an exorcism to "cure" him of his homosexuality.

    In the video, the boy is forcibly held by the arms, while a pastor screams, "Come on, you homosexual demon! You homosexual spirit, we call you out right now! Loose your grip, Lucifer!" The boy eventually vomited, and the church defended its actions, saying “we believe a man should be with a woman.”
  • Prescribing Bicycle Riding

    While not awful, this is certainly bizarre and unscientific. 19th century American neurologist Graeme M. Hammond suggested bicycling as a cure for homosexuality, believing the sexual orientation to be a mental disorder. He claimed same-sex attraction was merely "nervous exhaustion" and was adamant that "bicycle exercise would restore health and heterosexuality." This has not been proven by research.
  • The Creepy Secret Camps

    Gay conversion camps are run by numerous church groups, and have been investigated by journalists to see what really goes on there. While much of it is fairly harmless prayer, singing, and role-playing, it’s carried out by unlicensed therapists in secluded camps out in the desert, or in other countries, free from US laws.

    These camps often run into the thousands of dollars, and are almost always non-refundable and force their attendees to sign confidentiality agreements.
  • Taking a Cold Shower

    This is another bizarre modern technique to "cure" being gay, could something as simple as taking a cold shower really work? That's the theory put forth by Hong Kong psychiatrist Hong Kwai-wah, chairman of the Exodus International-linked New Creation Association, who suggested taking cold showers and prayer could wash away same-sex attraction.
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