While growing up, many of us probably experienced negative ways of thinking with regard to our sexual orientation. Influences from external sources – such as parents, friends, teachers and the media – often worked towards making us fit in; to be something we knew we were not.

While most of us ultimately come to grips with our identity, others continue to struggle with their sexuality; convinced that they are wrong, unnatural or destined to never be happy or fulfilled. It is these people that are the targets of organisations that are dedicated to changing, or ‘converting’ gays and lesbians from homosexuals to heterosexuals.

This is the ‘Ex-Gay Movement’: An assortment of organisations – usually with a religious and politically conservative background – committed to eradicating the “traumatized, issue-ridden and confused gay and lesbian population” of the world through means of ‘reparative therapy.’

‘’Ex-gay’’ is a term used by reparative therapists, religious groups and others to describe persons who used to identify as gay or bisexual, but now see themselves as heterosexual.

Various controversial forms of therapy and treatments, denounced by many professional bodies including the American Psychiatric Association and the Psychological Society of South Africa are used to achieve the ‘success’ the ex-gay proponents boast of.

Attempting to ‘cure’ homosexuality is nothing new, but while in the past castration, electric shock, brain surgery and breast amputations have been used, today less overtly barbaric techniques such as psychotherapy, aversion therapy and prayer are more common.

But does it really work? Can gay men and women be “turned straight?” Most modern research on the origin of sexuality leans towards the idea that whether we are gay or straight is primarily a genetic or biological factor – and not one of choice, conditioning or our upbringing. This would suggest that reparative therapy would not be effective.

Some people who have undergone the therapy claim that it works, but most commentators believe that they are fooling themselves and are destined to live a life of denial.

Anti-gay activists often cite a study done by Dr Robert Spitzer to support their contention that gays can become straight. Their dilemma is that the author of the study has publicly stated that the ex-gay proponents misinterpreted his work.

“…Of course no one chooses to be homosexual or heterosexual. It would be a mistake to interpret the study as implying that any highly motivated homosexual could change if they were really motivated to do so,” said Dr Spitzer.

The American Psychiatric Association also does not believe that reparative therapy actually works, and that it can in fact do harm. The board of trustees of the association endorsed the following position statement in 1998:

1. “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”

2. “Many patients who have undergone ‘reparative therapy’ relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction.”

3. “The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatisation discussed.”

4. “Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation…”

Many desperate people have been hurt through the actions of the ex-gay movement, to the extent that a community of ex-gay survivors has arisen…

If you think reparative therapy is an American phenomenon, think again. The rationale behind the ex-gay movement has found its way to our sunny shores.

Evidence of this can be seen in the disturbing trend taking hold in South Africa schools, namely ‘’corrective rapes,’’ in which lesbians are raped in order to ‘make them straight.’ While these rapes are not supported by any ex-gay organisations (who admittedly usually only ‘treat’ consenting people), the mindset that being gay or lesbian can be ‘corrected’ is common to both the rapists and the people behind the ex-gay ministries.

Wayne Besen, Executive Director and Founder of, a non-profit organisation aimed at exposing ex-gay myths and right-wing propaganda agrees, stating in his “’Corrective Rape’ of Lesbians In South African Schools Shows Sickness of ‘Ex-Gay Movement’” post, (May 7th 2008) that the belief that GLBT people must be altered no matter what the psychological or physical consequence, is in step with the West’s ex-gay movement.

“The indirect actions and violent words by America’s ex-gay organisations give license to those who wish to justify assaults and intimidation against homosexuals,” wrote Besen.

Recently, a letter promoting reparative therapy was published in the local Jewish community newspaper, the Jewish Report, from a New Yorker advocating an organisation called Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), an offshoot of the National Association of Reparative Therapy (NARTH).

Dr Juan Nel of the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) responded to the letter, stating that since 1990 reparative therapy has been strongly discouraged by the American Psychological Association (APA) and many others due to “poor prognosis, the ethics involved in trying to change a trait that is vital to a person’s identity, and because such a practice can do more harm than good.”

PsaSSA partakes in the International Network for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual concerns and Gender Identity Issues in Psychology (INET), consisting of national, multinational, and international psychological associations.

“INET, among others, has as an aim to increase the number of national psychological associations that formally reject the mental disorder conception of homosexuality and that promote mental health practice that is affirmative of LGBT people,” says Nel.

In conclusion to his letter, Dr Nel states, “PsySSA therefore does not condone or support the use of reparative therapy.”

Many desperate people have been hurt through the actions of the ex-gay movement, to the extent that a community of ex-gay survivors has arisen. Beyond ExGay ( is an online community for people who at one time participated in the ex-gay movement in an attempt to change their sexual orientation. The site has many contributions from ex-gay survivors.

While it is undeniably every person’s right to choose to undergo ex-gay therapy, and all that it entails, it remains the responsibility of organisations that provide these therapies to offer realistic expectations as to what they can expect.

It is also vital that we understand what some claim is the real rationale behind the ex-gay movement; a political one. Dr. Jack Drescher, a leading voice against the ex-gay movement in the US, recently wrote in the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychatrists newsletter:

“One major goal is to influence public policies toward gay

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