One of my math professors began one of our classes with a lament about the loss of the word “discriminate.” She didn’t have a problem with any of the various movements to stop discrimination, of course. Having been a woman pursuing a career in science from the 1940s on, she had experienced her fair share of gender-based discrimination.
Discrimination ultimately means to perceive or distinguish the differences between things. “It’s unfair discrimination that’s the problem,” she said. “Someone’s race or gender has no bearing on how qualified someone is for a particular job. It’s perfectly legitimate to fire someone for incompetence, or for stealing on the job. In those cases you’re distinguishing between good employees and bad.”
While dictionaries still list the “distinguish between” definitions, in most modern discourse, people almost always use it to mean “an unjust or prejudicial distinction.”
When the largest ex-gay organization out there, Exodus International, disbanded recently, several of the smaller groups went into a bit of a panic. The spokesman for on the International Healing Foundation, Christopher Doyle, was right at the forefront. And then he announced that his organization, in concert with groups like the Family Research Council, was going to sponsor Ex-gay Pride in July, as a “balance” against Gay Pride. He even announced a banquet and reception at FRC’s headquarters, and so forth.
Except none of the more generic anti-gay groups he named would confirm they were attending the banquet. FRC wouldn’t even confirm that such an event was happening in their building! Next thing you know, they announced that they were re-scheduling it, claiming that they’re received death threats. Except, of course, they wouldn’t provide proof of the threats, nor could any news organization get any spokesperson from the other groups to confirm that they have planned to participate.
Doyle won’t be deterred, though. In radio interviews he repeated the charge of threats and talked a lot about how oppressed and discriminated ex-gays are.
“We want federal protection just as gays are given. Ex-gays also need to be given protection.” —Christopher Doyle, International Healing Foundation
There are several problems with that. First, at the time of this writing, gay people aren’t explicitly given much in the way of federal protections. The two big Supreme Court rulings that all the anti-gay organizations point to in this regard don’t extend anti-discrimination protection to people based on sexual orientation.
- Lawrence v. Texas: struck down sodomy laws in 2003. The Court held that intimate consensual sexual conduct between adults was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling invalidated sodomy laws regardless of the gender. Most of the sodomy laws in question in theory could have been applied to opposite sex partners (remember that the original definition of sodomy is any sexual act that can’t result in pregnancy, it doesn’t just refer to anal sex between men, contrary to popular belief), though in practice they were almost never used against straight couples.
- United States v. Windsor: struck down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act. The court ruled that if a state recognizes a marriage, then the federal government must also recognize the marriage. The ruling skirted around the issue of defining exactly what level of scrutiny should apply to cases of applying rights based on sexual orientation, though it implied a level greater than the lowest level, rational basis.
Neither ruling created any federal protection against discrimination. In fact, the second ruling was written in such a way as to completely sidestep the question of whether gay rights rise to the level of a constitutional right requiring strict judicial scrutiny.
Even their decision that effectively restored marriage equality in California didn’t create any federal protection. The ruling was specifically that the anti-gay groups didn’t have standing to appeal a lower court ruling.
The second problem with Doyle’s plea is what do they need protection from? As several people have pointed out, if what they say about their therapy is true, than an ex-gay is merely a straight person. So who is discriminating against them? No one is beating them or shooting them for holding hands in public with an opposite-sex person. No one is prohibiting them from marrying an opposite-sex person. No one is denying them any legal rights at all.
When confronted with these arguments, Doyle says that ex-gays are harassed by gay people. “There are tens of thousands of ex-gays out there, but they are afraid to go public because they are harassed, and threatened, and called liars.”
Here’s the thing. Every time that an ex-gay therapist or organization has been put under oath in a court of law, they have had to admit that they don’t cure gay people. Ever. For a while they claimed a 15% success rate (which seems dismal by any standard), until they had to defend the methodology in a court of law, at which point it was learned that the one study they pointed to was of 73 patients who enrolled in the same year with one ex-gay organization. They only got the 15% rate by excluding 98 other enrollees who dropped out before completing therapy, and by defining success as “the person reports that they feel their same-sex attraction is less than it used to be.”
More recently, they admitted their success rate was less than 0.1 percent. That means that 99.9% of people who try therapy, or pray-away-the-gay programs, et cetera, are unable to change from being gay. And even then, success is defined as refraining from same-sex sexual activity, not actually ceasing to be attracted to members of the same sex.
One of the former leaders of a couple of these groups published a book chronicling a couple of case studies of young men he treated from adolescence into adulthood. The book concluded by declaring great victory in one case, naming the boy as proof that god and therapy could cure homosexuality. The problem was that the young man in question had committed suicide, six years before the doctor published the book. The young man’s suicide note indicated that all the years of therapy (including aversion therapy, drugs to deaden his libido, et cetera) and praying hadn’t changed how he felt. And he would rather die than face rejection from his family.
Hardly a success.
Just google ex-gay and see how many news stories pop up of “famous” ex-gays who have been caught trying to hook up for sex in gay bars, or using hook-up apps, or hiring young male prostitutes to accompany them on overseas lecture tours. You’ll also find stories of once prominent ex-gays having quietly left the movement and taken up with a same-sex partner.
Even a superficial attempt to research this topic will make it clear that the only living ex-gay they can name are people who now make their living entirely by peddling ex-gay therapy or working for things like anti-gay political action committees.
When you make your living selling a therapy that has been proven not to work, when you prey upon people who fear rejection from their families and communities by promising a cure that has been proven not to work, when you sell people $300+ “introductory kits” and charge them exorbitant fees for therapy sessions that have been proven not to work, you are lying.
That makes you a liar.
Pointing out the fact that you are a liar when it has been demonstrated again and again and again that you are lying is not subjecting you to unjust or prejudicial discrimination. It’s an accurate description.
If we go further and point to people like that one young man who committed suicide (and there are far, far more than just him) as a result of your failed therapy, that isn’t unjust or prejudicial, either. That’s called holding you accountable.
After canceling Ex-gay Pride, Doyle announced an Ex-gay Rights Rally in Washington, D.C. He did the arch-conservative radio circuit confidently predicting that thousands of ex-gays would show up to demand their rights.
They came up a little short.
And to be clear, this isn’t a picture taken from in front of an enormous crowd of the oppressed masses of ex-gay people. There was no crowd. At all.
Afterwards, Doyle admitted that only nine ex-gays attended, but he declared it a success, because those nine people overcame great fear of discrimination to bravely show their faces. He failed to mention that he was including himself and eight other employees of ex-gay ministries in that count.
In the second picture I’ve included, everyone you see in that wide shot is an employee of one of the ex-gay groups, or someone there covering the “news” event. And please note, the camera crew was hired by one of the ex-gay groups hosting the event. Even Fox News couldn’t bother to send a camera man, they later ran the video shot by the organizers. The Wonkette news blog went so far as to issue an apology for its earlier story about the announcement which had predicted “maybe tens or even dozens” of attendees.
Just as accurately being described isn’t discrimination, trying to appear relevant so donations will keep coming in isn’t fighting discrimination.
It’s just pathetic.