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A gay man who was subjected to conversion therapy as a youth has written an eye-opening op-ed recounting that a counselor advised him to masturbate to pictures of women in order to “rewire” his brain.
Curtis Galloway, a 26-year-old raised in Kentucky, wrote a guest column for several Kentucky newspapers recounting his negative experience with conversion therapy in order to express support for a bill to ban conversion therapy.
The Youth Mental Health Protection Act, introduced by Kentucky Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington) and State Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville), would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy on people under the age of 18, and would prohibit public funds from being used to pay or reimburse mental health practitioners who engage in conversion therapy.
“I was subjected to conversion therapy right here in Kentucky,” Galloway wrote in the column. “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.”
According to Galloway, after he came out as gay, his parents took him to a counselor who believed that homosexuality was a choice and blamed his parents for his homosexuality, alleging his father was distant and his mother was “overbearing.”
When he wasn’t immediately cured, the therapist told his parents that Galloway wasn’t trying hard enough. That led to fights with his parents, and caused Galloway to become withdrawn and depressed as he was forced to isolate from friends who were thought to be “gay-affirming.”
The counselor then claimed that Galloway’s homosexuality was caused by being bullied in middle school and his lack of masculinity. He prescribed so-called “masculine activities” in order to “fix” the problem. But that wasn’t the most shocking claim that the counselor would make.
“My counselor went as far as to instruct me to masturbate to images of women to rewire my brain, citing Pavlov’s Dogs,” wrote Galloway. “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.”
But Galloway also says he still suffers from the after-effects of conversion therapy, and hopes that other youth are not subjected to similar practices or placed at the mercy of counselors who have their own agenda when it comes to helping people cope with their sexual orientation.
“Conversion therapy doesn’t work and attempts to fix something that is not broken,” Galloway concluded. “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. Twenty states and nearly 100 cities have already passed laws protecting minors from conversion therapy. Kentucky should act now and ban conversion ‘torture’ therapy.”
Kerr and Willner previously partnered on the bill, which failed to gain traction during the 202o legislative session, failing to obtain even a hearing in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Leading the opposition to the bill was The Family Foundation, a conservative lobbying organization, who claimed that banning conversion therapy interferes with parental rights and impedes on both free speech and religious freedom.
According to The Associated Press, the Family Foundation has also argued that the bill is rooted in bias, as it will prevent people with unwanted same-sex attractions from seeking mental help or counseling. But proponents of the bill note that therapists would not be prohibited from providing support or counseling to youths experiencing suicidal ideation, depression, or other mental health issues because of their sexual orientation.
Supporters of the bill have also noted that conversion therapy can have negative outcomes for those subjected to it. A 2019 study looking specifically at transgender survivors of conversion therapy found that those subjected to it at any point in their life were twice as likely to have attempted suicide than their peers not subjected to it, with those subjected to it as children four times more likely to attempt suicide. A team of researchers writing for the New England Journal of Medicine also found that potential side-effects of conversion therapy can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation.
“The facts remain that the practices to change sexual orientation, gender-identity attraction are dangerous, discredited and sometimes deadly,” Willner told The AP in August after introducing the bill ahead of this year’s legislative session.
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