Inside so-called ‘conversion therapy’ in Georgia
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)