Last month, we launched our Protecting LGBTQ+ Youth from Conversion Therapy project, an attempt to use public records to learn more about the poorly-understood practice. But there are definite challenges to understanding the impact of conversion therapy in America, and we’re going to need help to get further into our investigation.
The practice of conversion therapy is justifiably controversial and has moved advocates across the country to submit state legislation banning licensed counselors from doing it; nearly all of these proposed and passed bills, with the exception of California’s AB 2943, has this provision.
- Blue = U.S. cities and counties that have bans on sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts with minors.
Unlicensed practitioners, like religious leaders and members of non-profit organizations, however, are free to continue operating with minimal scrutiny, in part because they lack a license to fine or remove.
“We’re so close to finally regulating an industry rife with institutions that masquerade as residential schools, camps, and wilderness programs to help troubled youth, but frequently abuse and even kill the kids they claim to ‘treat.’ said The LGBT Center’s Director of Policy and Community Building Dave Garcia.
This is important both in states with no passed legislation and in states with legislation that only bans licensed healthcare professionals from conversion therapy. However, to locate documents and uncover data we need to know where to look and what private operators we need to scrutinize. This proves to be harder than it sounds.
Due to a number of factors - including seemingly intentional secrecy, impossibly user-unfriendly web layouts, and vaguely-worded online resources - it is difficult to pinpoint entities across the US that offer child-oriented private conversion therapy programs. Additionally, public scrutiny in recent years can affect how providers describe their offerings, possibly encouraging the use of other phrasing like “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts,” “reparative therapy,” or “same-sex attraction therapy” in online materials or advertisements and making finding information on the subject a challenge.
In locating small, private conversion therapy outposts that support the industry but remain out of the public eye, it’s helpful to start at the top. Focus On The Family is a major network of Christians that vocally supports conversion therapy and produces material on the practice; in a recent Last Week Tonight segment, comedian John Oliver highlighted founder James Dobson’s friendship with Vice President Mike Pence.
We were able to find two non-profit organizations local to the MuckRock offices that openly support conversion therapy via their online resources: the Massachusetts Family Institute (which endorses Focus On the Family and have publicly released pro-conversion therapy materials) and Desert Stream Ministries (listed by Focus On The Family on their “Resources for Men and Women with Unwanted Homosexuality”). According to their “find-a-group” map, the latter organization has offices in Jamaica Plain and Uxbridge, Massachusetts.
Support of the practice isn’t necessarily an indication that they provide clients with the therapy. However, knowing that they support it allows us to consider their roles in the bigger picture.
Using the new crowdsource tool, we invite you to submit leads regarding pro-conversion therapy counselors, churches, camps or non-profits local to you. Across the country, there is an overwhelming amount of groups with varying language, beliefs and practices potentially falling into the category of “conversion therapy.” With your help, we can begin to study practitioners and their supporters at the local level and work toward stronger oversight and action.