A few people and I were sitting around, and one was telling about their difficult relationship with their parents. They added, “I have a friend who invited me to a meeting at their church, where they have a support group for people like me.”
Four or five of us responded, almost in unison: “Don’t go.” “No, I won’t,” they replied. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
Although it was debunked decades ago, the practice of trying to “convert” queer people to a heteronormative lifestyle is, unfortunately, still around. Every major association of psychologists and therapists opposes conversion counseling. It is not only non-evidence based and ineffective, but also is abusive, as was depicted in the recent film “Boy Erased.” Yet, there are still religious groups that claim they can help young people to “pray away the gay” (or lesbian, or bi, or transgender).
Why does conversion counseling persist? Certainly, it is rooted in biblical legalism: God hand-made the first two people, one male and one female, and directed them to “be fruitful and multiply,” and it must always be so. However, this legalism is highly selective. Take the practice of charging interest, for example. There are almost three times as many references against interest in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures as there are against homosexuality, yet fundamentalist Christians don’t object to banks or credit cards. The real reason some churches want to “convert” us is their discomfort with queer people.
All too often, individuals’ discomfort is really with their own sexuality and gender identity. Several years ago, for example, the two (male) founders of the “ex-gay” organization Exodus announced that they were leaving the organization, that conversion efforts did not work, and that they were in relationship. I can only pray that an adversary who “doth protest too much” will face and accept their God-given self… before they delude and defraud others, and possibly do them serious harm.
Because conversion counseling is dangerous quackery, it is against the law in 15 states, and the District of Columbia, to force minors into such “therapy.” None of those 15 are in the Southeast, so it is important to be careful when choosing a therapist. Reputable practitioners can be found by searching the Psychology Today website. Be wary of “biblical counseling” practitioners, who may not be licensed. And if you have a Christian spiritual practice, gaychurch.org lists churches, including my own Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) congregation, that will cheerfully accept you for yourself.
Being queer, or a queer ally, is a gift! When we accept ourselves and others, it opens our hearts even wider to the diversity of humanity. Let’s give praise, as did Paul in Galatians 3:28, for the Holy One in whom “there is no male nor female,” for “all are one.” We are one big, beautiful, rainbow family. Hallelujah!
The Reverend Dr. Joan M. Saniuk is pastor of MCC Sacred Journey in Hendersonville, N.C.