Legal Docket: Conversion therapy

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Monday morning, start of a new work week for The World and Everything in It. Today is the 10th of September, 2018.

Good morning to you, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Before we get started today, I’ll remind you what we said on Friday, about our listener survey. It’s a short, 20-question survey and we designed it to take about five to ten minutes of your time. We’ll compile the results and use them to help serve you better.

You can find a link to the online survey at Up at the top of the page, you’ll see a link that says “Take our survey!” Thanks!

REICHARD: And now on to Legal Docket.

Suppose you’re physically attracted to people of the same sex.

Suppose you wish you weren’t.

But you felt powerless on your own to curb the attraction and needed the help of a professional.

California was on the verge this summer of making such professional help illegal. State lawmakers were poised to approve a measure that would redefine “sexual orientation change efforts” as illegal consumer fraud.

A solid majority of state lawmakers in California were enthusiastically on board. They’d dismissed concerns about the measure’s constitutionality, its impact on religious liberty, and even the possibility that the bill was broad enough that it might make some Christian conferences against the law.

EICHER: California Lawmakers had no reason to believe Governor Jerry Brown would’ve vetoed it, and on the final legislative day of the session on August 31st, the lead sponsor of the bill withdrew it.

Assemblyman Evan Low proudly identifies as LGBT, and he plans to bring the bill back, in some form, next year.

But he’d met with members of the clergy as well as with professional therapists who disagreed with him. In the end, he decided to wait.

REICHARD: Assemblyman Low explained his rationale on his Facebook page. He wrote: “The best policy is not made in a vacuum and in order to advance the strongest piece of legislation, the bill requires additional time to allow for an inclusive process not hampered by legislative deadlines. … It is my obligation as a Legislator to make this difficult decision in the interest of finding common ground.”

EICHER: Before we go further, a warning: Today’s Legal Docket will contain some themes that may not be appropriate for young children.

So if you have young ones within earshot, this may be the time to press pause and come back later.

Still, this is a newsworthy topic, because religious liberty, particularly as it relates to LGBT issues, is at the heart of numerous cases in the courts still unresolved.

The proposed California law is one of the most sweeping in the country. Politically, it can’t be stopped, which is why Low’s decision came as such a surprise.

REICHARD: But although he’s called for a reconsideration, he’s not yet acknowledged the right of a person to seek professional help for unwanted feelings.

Daren Mehl is president of Voice of the Voiceless. That’s an organization devoted to defending the rights of people with same-sex attractions who want help changing those feelings.

It also supports the freedom to speak about homosexuality in a way that doesn’t comport with LGBT ideas.

Mehl said he’s grateful that Low withdrew the bill for this term, but he has reservations about the ultimate goal of the bill even if it is revised.

MEHL: I spent many years as a gay identified man living in the community. And I was loved and accepted in that community. But I’ve found that my behaviors didn’t align with my faith, and the Holy Spirit convicted me of that. I mean, Scripture says that I’m destined to be conformed to the image of Christ and that I’m going from glory to glory being sanctified and that has deep meaning to me. And I want the freedom to be able to share my journey with other people that have the same desire to follow Jesus and be a disciple of Jesus in that way. And I’m concerned that this bill will come back next year and the foundation of the bill is that change isn’t possible and that you’re born gay. And I have an experience that tells me otherwise.

I asked Mehl about how the bill’s language struck him.

MEHL: Yeah, that is very disheartening. This bill philosophically denies and only allows options that lead you towards a gay identity. And our community has no animosity towards the LGBT identity. We believe that there’s something greater to follow with an identity in Christ one of the premises of the bill and bills like it is that seeking change is harmful. But Jesus is the author of life, you know? Seeking Jesus is not harmful, you know, if a straight man is addicted to porn, and he’s married to his wife, and he knows that it’s hurting him, he can get therapy to reduce the bad behaviors that aren’t aligning for the goals in his life. But me, I mean, my wife married me knowing that I had previously lived as a gay man. I was addicted to gay porn coming into our marriage and to take the tool away to help me reconcile my behaviors with my faith is cruel and mean to me.

But the revelations I found was why I’m attracted to men. Because I had a horrible body shame trauma from my youth. I was body shamed as a child, and I was told by the boys that, you know, I was a girl. That I kicked like a girl, threw like a girl, swam like a girl. I felt like my body was broken or something and God revealed those lies to me and set up the truth of who I am and who he created me to be.

Before we finished our conversation, I asked Mehl what message he had for those who cannot relate to his struggle.

MEHL: I’m getting a rush of emotion with that because I’m very passionate about that. Everybody struggles with brokenness, with things that have happened in their life and we all walk out that brokenness in different ways. And the LGBT community, those who identify as LGBT are no different than you and I. They have a calling on their life to have relationship with God. God created them. God loves them. And my experience has been that when I share my testimony, people recognize, wow, I struggle in those areas, too. I might not have expressed it in same-sex attraction or acting out in a sexual way, but I had the same kind of brokenness. My own testimony is I had a brother who came alongside of me because, you know, we’re in church, we’re working together doing projects together, and we built a friendship and that led to weekly prayer, holding each other accountable. Scripture says iron sharpens iron. And over seven years of weekly prayer and just a brother loving on me and demonstrating what brotherly love is changed me. It gave me something to compare to what a healthy relationship is. And when I say a healthy relationship, how I can relate to men intimately without it becoming a sexual relationship.

Joseph Nicolosi Jr. is a licensed psychologist who founded the Reintegrative Therapy Association. He treats men and women who have experienced trauma and who suffer from sexual addiction. He provided expert testimony for the California bill and met with Assemblyman Low. I asked him about that meeting.

NICOLOSI: We spoke for a couple hours with a roomful of pastors and we spoke about our concerns. And I talked to him about how this law was broad. It threatened the rights of my clients to set their own goals in their own psychotherapy. I mentioned that there were many people who wanted to leave homosexuality but didn’t boil down to homophobia as he was implying. They had very good reasons for saying that homosexuality was not for them. For example, individuals who were sexually abused when they were young by someone of the same sex, resulting in conflict and confusion and lingering effects of abuse that they wish to resolve as adults. Two, individuals who—because of their deeply held beliefs, maybe they’re Jews or Muslims or Christians, Buddhists—they believe they were created heterosexual, and they want to explore heterosexuality. And the final reason I see from individuals who’ve said they want to leave homosexuality are people who are gay-identified. They came out as gay, they’ve been in gay relationships for years, but eventually they say they felt unfulfilled, and they want to explore heterosexuality, and they want the right to do that. And, ultimately, one thing all these groups share is that they all believe they should have the freedom, the right to choose their own goals and to be in the driver’s seat of their own psychotherapy, not the government choosing their goals.

I asked Nicolosi, how do we even know people can change their sexual orientation or gender identity, given that we hear so often it’s not possible? What about the idea that people are born that way?

NICOLOSI: The data is pretty clear. The brain has the capacity to wire and rewire itself based on our life experiences. This is something called neuroplasticity and there’s more and more evidence that sexuality can change and the regions of the brain that are responsible for sexual preferences are the same regions of the brain that we know can change over time.

I asked him to discuss the difference between “conversion therapy” and “reintegrative therapy.”

NICOLOSI: Conversion therapy is a term that’s very broad. It’s ill-defined. There’s no ethics code, no governing body, and it’s practiced by unlicensed individuals. It’s a political term, not a scientific one. In the work that I do, which is reintegrative therapy, the client is in the driver’s seat. The licensed psychotherapist uses mainstream, evidence-based approaches to treat trauma and sexual addiction. And as those underlying dynamics are resolved, the sexuality changes as a byproduct.

I asked Nicolosi for a specific example from his practice. Does a patient receiving therapy experience an “aha” moment, or does it tend to take time?

NICOLOSI: It’s a gradual process filled with many small “aha” moments. One man came to me because he was sexually abused when he was young by someone of the same sex, and we use standard trauma therapy the same treatments found in clinics throughout the world to treat the memories of the sexual addiction. And as those memories were resolved with an accelerated trauma treatment, he began to notice throughout his week that his same-sex attractions were just dissipating. He wasn’t trying to change them, they were just dissipating and his heterosexual attractions began to rise to the surface.

A short documentary produced by Reintegrative Therapy Institute highlights four men who sought this kind of therapy. I’ve put together a montage so you can hear their comments.

AUDIO: And I hooked up with at least 10 maybe 15 guys in a week period and at the end of that looking at myself in the mirror and thinking this isn’t who I want to be. That’s when I said enough is enough. I don’t have the answers, but this can’t stand anymore.

AUDIO: It wasn’t in line with my values. I didn’t feel like I was being my authentic self and I wanted to address it head on. 

AUDIO: I had masculine strivings, this is something that’s part of development. It’s just that I got punished for them.

AUDIO: I had attractions that were the result of a lot of my upbringing. Once I dealt with some of those issues, those attractions, first they dissipated and now they’re virtually gone.

Nicolosi’s argument is people ought to be free to choose. In healthy communities, he says, people are free to come and go. But it’s unhealthy when individuals welcome a person into a community, but try to block them when they want to leave.

That’s his clinical concern. But it also happens to line up with healthy lawmaking that strikes a balance to allow individuals with vastly different values to live harmoniously in society.

And that’s this week’s Legal Docket.

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, watches the debate over a bill during the Assembly session Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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