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Op-Ed: I Survived Gay Conversion Therapy. It Must Be Banned.

The following op-ed is written by Curtis Galloway in reference to Senator Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington) and Representative Lisa Willner (D-Louisville)'s Youth Mental Health Protection Act

I was 16 years old when I finally came to terms with my sexuality. I am a gay man, and there was no questioning that. I, however, was to go through the most traumatic experience in my life. This experience centered around my sexuality and left me with permanent mental and emotional scars.

I was subjected to conversion therapy right here in Kentucky. Conversion “therapy” is often promoted by supporters as another form of therapy – a sound, legitimate way to “convert” people from gay to straight. Supporters don’t disclose what actually happens in this “therapy.” What they don’t tell you is that this practice can pit a child and parents against each other, creating a permanent fracture in a perfectly happy family. 

Once I came out to my family, they took me to a licensed counselor to “help” me with my same-sex attractions; an attempt to indoctrinate that homosexuality is some kind of a choice. The counselor blamed many facets of my life for my sexual orientation: my father because he had to work a lot when I was young – although we were actually very close; and my mother for being overbearing - even though she wasn’t. When my sexuality did not change, my parents were told that the therapy was not working because I didn’t try hard enough and were instructed to be firm in his instructions. All that resulted were many verbal fights and tears. I felt like I cornered with little chance of escape. I gradually shut down and withdrew deep into myself. I was losing hold of my family and myself. 

My social life also suffered. the counselor instructed me to end time with “gay-affirming friends,” or in other words, anyone who loved and supported me despite being a gay man.

At 16, I had to find a whole new group of friends or face being pulled out of school, which was my only safe haven. Conversion therapy isolated me from anyone I could talk to about how I felt. I didn’t trust my family anymore. I couldn’t talk to my friends for fear of being further driven away, and I was being surveilled very closely. 

In another attempt to diagnose me, my counselor wrongly said being bullied in middle school caused me to want same-sex attention. He portrayed my same-sex attraction as assimilating their masculinity – something he said I was lacking. To cope, I convinced myself that I was asexual, which he encouraged in an attempt to further erase me. He prescribed “masculine activities” where I took charge and felt “powerful.” But the underlying message was that I was inherently broken, that my homosexuality meant I was not a real “man.” 

My counselor went as far as to instruct me to masturbate to images of women to rewire my brain, citing Pavlov’s Dogs. I was appalled as we had not ever discussed masturbation, and I was horrified that he might discuss this instruction with my parents. Fortunately, my parents eventually ended the therapy after seeing no improvement and seeing how severely depressed I had become.

Now that I am 26, my parents now accept and love me unconditionally. But the harmful effects of this practice have clung to me, inspiring me to fight for other victims of this form of abuse. Looking back, I can also recognize how my parents were just as confused and scared as I was. The counselor took advantage of this and warped our family into something I did not recognize. 

Conversion Therapy doesn’t work and attempts to fix something that is not broken. Every major American organization of mental health professionals ubiquitously rejects it and warn of its potential harm. My story is why young people need protection from this dangerous practice, and there are countless others that are not as fortunate as I have been. 20 states and nearly 100 cities have already passed laws protecting minors from conversion therapy. Kentucky should act now and ban conversion “torture” therapy.