In­side so-called ‘con­ver­sion ther­apy’ in Ge­or­gia

GA Voice - - Georgia News -

Thanks to last sum­mer’s U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing, same-sex cou­ples can now legally marry in Ge­or­gia. But away from the cel­e­bra­tions, the ex­chang­ing of vows, and the cou­ples pledg­ing their love to each other in front of friends and fam­ily lies places where li­censed coun­selors are at­tempt­ing to change the sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity of both adults and chil­dren.

Ge­or­gia Voice has found nu­mer­ous prac­ti­tion­ers of so-called “con­ver­sion ther­apy” (also known as “ex-gay ther­apy” or “repar­a­tive ther­apy”) through­out the state, with some in the At­lanta area. It’s a prac­tice that ma­jor med­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions like the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics have deemed both in­ef­fec­tive and harm­ful.

But the prac­tice is still le­gal in Ge­or­gia, al­though state Rep. Keisha Waites (D-At­lanta) has pro­posed a bill that would make it il­le­gal for li­censed pro­fes­sion­als to en­gage in sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion change ef­forts with any­one un­der 18 in Ge­or­gia.

Waites tells Ge­or­gia Voice she was in­spired to pur­sue her bill af­ter sim­i­lar bills passed in Cal­i­for­nia, Illinois, New Jersey and Ore­gon. She then read sto­ries of young peo­ple be­ing put into the ther­apy who even­tu­ally com­mit­ted sui­cide as a re­sult.

The bill does not cur­rently in­clude a ban on such ther­apy that ad­dresses gen­der iden­tity, but Waites says she is work­ing with the Na­tional Cen­ter for Les­bian Rights and the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter “to ex­pand and per­fect the lan­guage should we be suc­cess­ful in gain­ing a hear­ing.” How­ever, the bill has not crossed over from one cham­ber to the other and has very lit­tle chance of pass­ing this year.

‘Never seen harm done’

Dan Al­me­ter is one such Ge­or­gia-based

March 4, 2016

“If some­body’s more on the zero end, I pretty much share with them that I’m not sure there’s much I can do to help you get het­ero­sex­u­ally at­tracted. Some­body who is more in the middle there’s a lot more chance

of suc­cess of work­ing to­ward stronger het­ero­sex­ual de­vel­op­ment.” prac­ti­tioner of “con­ver­sion ther­apy.” He’s a mem­ber of NARTH (Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­search & Ther­apy of Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity) and is listed as a re­fer­ral coun­selor by the Hope for Whole­ness Net­work (an off­shoot of the now-shut­tered Ex­o­dus In­ter­na­tional), whose motto is “Free­dom From Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity Through Je­sus Christ.”

The Au­gusta res­i­dent is also a pas­toral leader and teacher in Al­leluia Com­mu­nity, a Chris­tian com­mune formed just weeks af­ter the Roe v. Wade de­ci­sion, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case le­gal­iz­ing abor­tion. Al­leluia has its own fully-ac­cred­ited K-12 school and what the Au­gusta Chron­i­cle re­ports as over 700 mem­bers, most of whom live in an area called Faith Vil­lage, which has more than 100 homes.

“One of the Ten Words the Lord gave us dur­ing the early years of the com­mu­nity was to ‘Be an al­ter­nate so­ci­ety,’” Al­leluia Com­mu­nity’s web­site reads. “In re­spond­ing to that word we are striv­ing to be a com­mu­nity where our ‘so­ci­ety’ and ‘cul­ture’ are boldly and rad­i­cally Chris­tian. In this ‘al­ter­nate so­ci­ety’ based on Chris­tian prin­ci­ples our form of govern­ment is ‘Pas­toral,’ guided by the so­cial prin­ci­ples of ‘Sol­i­dar­ity’ and ‘Sub­sidiar­ity.’ We rec­og­nize the pri­macy of the Fam­ily as the foun­da­tional unity of so­ci­ety and up­hold the sovereignty of the fam­ily in its role in the for­ma­tion and education of chil­dren.”

Al­me­ter, a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor, says he has treated around 70 peo­ple in the last dozen years who wanted to change their same-sex at­trac­tion. While he cau- tions that he of­ten doesn’t have fol­low-up ap­point­ments af­ter they leave, he says “at least half prob­a­bly” are able to lessen their same-sex at­trac­tion and that he’s never had a com­plaint.

De­spite the opin­ion on such ther­apy by al­most ev­ery ma­jor med­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and psy­chi­atric as­so­ci­a­tion across the coun­try, Al­me­ter says he’s “never seen harm done” and com­pares his tac­tics fa­vor­ably to those used by oth­ers.

“One of my most suc­cess­ful clients who has al­most zero same-sex at­trac­tion at this point, back in the ‘70s he went through aver­sion ther­apy where they shocked you, which was hor­ri­ble. Part of his heal­ing was get­ting healed of those mem­o­ries of what hap­pened,” says Al­me­ter, who, af­ter ask­ing, was no­ti­fied that he was speak­ing to an LGBT me­dia out­let.

‘It’s a de­vel­op­men­tal is­sue’

Al­me­ter says he con­sid­ers same-sex at­trac­tion a “con­di­tion” and a “men­tal health is­sue” like anx­i­ety, OCD or de­pres­sion.

But he’s ea­ger to point out that he doesn’t work with clients that don’t want to at­tempt to change their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, and that he doesn’t make any prom­ises about chang­ing. He sees same-sex at­trac­tion on a spec­trum, and says that where one falls on that spec­trum can de­ter­mine how likely they are to change.

“If some­body’s more on the zero end, I pretty much share with them that I’m not sure there’s much I can do to help you get het­ero­sex­u­ally at­tracted. Some­body who is more in the middle there’s a lot more chance of suc­cess of work­ing to­ward stronger het­ero­sex­ual de­vel­op­ment,” he says.

As ex­pected, he’s against Waites’ bill ban­ning the prac­tice, say­ing it’s against what he be­lieves the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion stands for, which he says is client choice.

“I’m not a political ac­tivist, but a lot of gay peo­ple are political ac­tivists. If you say that you want to change an ori­en­ta­tion, that di­rectly af­fronts them, it’s per­son­ally at­tack­ing them. So they do ev­ery­thing they can to pass laws. Some­how their self-es­teem is tied to…” He pauses then con­tin­ues. “I just don’t be­lieve that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is a nor­mal variant. It’s a de­vel­op­men­tal is­sue.”

By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

Ge­or­gia Voice found nu­mer­ous prac­ti­tion­ers of so-called “con­ver­sion ther­apy” through­out the state. (Stock im­age)

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