Our Goal—End Conversion Therapy in Five Years

By Kate Kendell, Esq.NCLR Executive Director

No child should ever be hurt because of who they are. That’s why we started the #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy across the country over the next five years.

We need your financial support to make it happen.

All attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through conversion therapy damage LGBT youth, causing depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. Conversion therapy has been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization in the country. But unethical therapists still continue to subject LGBT youth to this abusive practice.

Your donation of $10, $25, or $50 will support the work in progress right now to end conversion therapy. Will you join us in this fight? We are:

  • Testifying to urge the United Nations Committee Against Torture to take steps to end conversion therapy in the U.S.
  • Working with legislators and leaders in more than a dozen states to draft and pass laws to protect LGBT youth, similar to California and New Jersey where we helped draft, pass, and defend laws banning conversion therapy.
  • Fighting in courtrooms to defend conversion therapy bans.
  • Representing LGBT survivors abused by religious authorities, including recently a young man in Mississippi who suffered horrific abuse in a religious school.

We believe that every LGBT child is born perfect and that any young person’s identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender should be honored, celebrated, and supported. We are committed to a future where youth are free from this abusive practice, but we cannot realize that vision without you.

Will you donate today?


Kate Kendell, Esq.
NCLR Executive Director

The Human Element: Making Conversion Therapy in the U.S. an International Human Rights Issue

Sam Ames and Sam BrintonBy Sam Ames#BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator & Staff Attorney

There we were. Around the illustrious circular United Nations briefing tables at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, among the 70 human rights advocates from across the United States, the largest delegation in the history of the U.N.’s Committee Against Torture (CAT).

Together, as leaders of the National Center for Lesbian Right’s (NCLR) #BornPerfect campaign, Samuel Brinton and I had spent a sleepless few days working around the clock to make Committee members aware of the dangers of convention therapy, especially for LGBT youth.

What happened this morning, we could have never imagined.

The moment the words “conversion therapy” left Rapporteur Jens Modvig’s lips, gasps filled the room. We had done it. Modvig, the CAT member from Denmark, asked the delegation from the U.S. State Department how conversion therapy could still be going on in the United States in 2014. Sam, a conversion therapy survivor, who had courageously testified through tears yesterday, grabbed my hand and squeezed so hard I thought it might break. We had done what we came here to do: For the first time, a United Nations committee had addressed conversion therapy as an international human rights issue. It was unbelievable.

But, before the shock could wear off, we heard the words again, this time from CAT Rapporteur Satyabhoosun Gupt Domah of Mauritius. Then, incredible, a third time, from Committee member Sapana Pradhan Malla of Nepal. For the first three times in the history of the United Nations, the Committee Against Torture was questioning a country on conversion therapy.

There was no going back. We had already won.

Today was a red letter day for underdogs. The CAT went in depth into many of the larger issues, like indefinite detention and the death penalty, but they also brought up a select few less likely ones, including the abuse suffered by transgender women in detention, racially targeted police violence in Chicago, and conversion therapy.

As representatives of NCLR, we didn’t do it alone. We have been in extraordinary company this week, and our fellow advocates here to testify on other important issues here couldn’t be more behind us. Yesterday, they lent me their strength as I testified before the U.S. State Department to ensure the voices of the survivors back in the United States were heard.

I testified that as many as one in three LGBT people have been subjected to some form of conversion therapy and that the American Psychological Association has linked it to depression, substance abuse, and suicide. I also told them that federal funds and juvenile justice systems are just two of the ways the government is implicated in its continued foothold in the United States. I’m confident that what I told them changed more than a few minds. But what Sam told them changed more than a few hearts.

Sam tearfully testified about the licensed psychotherapist who tied his arms down, wrapped his hands in hot copper coils, and stuck needles in his fingers to channel electric shocks whenever he was shown a picture of men kissing. The conversion therapy stories we shared brought tears to the eyes of U.N. and State Department officials.

Sam also shared his unbelievable strength with other survivors directly impacted by the issues before the committee, including Stephanie Schroeder, a survivor of military sexual assault Murat Kunaz, an exonerated prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay, and Martinez Sutton, Asha Rosa, and the parents of Michael Brown, whose families were devastated by police violence.

This week has been historic in ways we haven’t begun to realize. We did what we came to Geneva to do. But we couldn’t have done it without our fellow human rights activists. This week, we broke bread and shared stories with some of the most committed, inspiring activists in the United States. Their issues have also become ours issues, and they’ve made our issues theirs. Today, intersectionality took on a whole new meaning. It isn’t just about dimensions of oppression. It’s about dimensions of humanity. From Phoenix to Ferguson to Guantanamo Bay, we know none of us succeed unless we all do.

SAM AMES is an attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, where they oversee the #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy. Follow NCLR’s journey to Geneva by following the hashtags #BornPerfect and #EndTorture, on NCLRights.org, and on Twitter @NCLRights@SamSAmesEsq, and @SBrinton. And feel free to share your own experiences with therapy using #BornPerfect.

NCLR Urges U.N. Committee Against Torture to End Conversion Therapy

By Sam Ames#BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator & Staff Attorney

This Tuesday, I will walk into the historic Palais de Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to meet with representatives of the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State as part of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ #BornPerfect campaign to protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy, the dangerous and discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through everything from talk therapy to exorcism to “orgasmic reconditioning.”

Under the Convention Against Torture, the United Nations has the power to address the practice of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” including forcible or coercive treatment based on the false premise that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a mental illness that can and should be cured. Shockingly, while two states have enacted laws that protect youth against this harmful practice, some unethical therapists continue to practice conversion therapy on children in 48 states. The result, especially for vulnerable youth, is lifelong damage that can include depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

I’ll be joined in Geneva by human rights advocates from across the country, including Samuel Brinton, a survivor of these practices who travels the world advocating for the rights of LGBT youth. Sam is one of thousands of survivors who know the consequences of conversion therapy all too well. Sam, like many others, was told by a licensed therapist that being gay meant being alone forever. Over the course of therapy, Sam was subjected to lies and manipulation, physical restraints, extreme temperatures, needles, and even electric shocks.

According to a 2009 report by the American Psychological Association, other techniques used to associate being LGBT with pain include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; and satiation therapy. While many therapists have abandoned such crude techniques in recent years, they are far from gone, and it is still common to attempt to bribe or discipline children out of gender non-conforming behaviors, have patients snap a rubber band around their wrist whenever they have a sexual impulse, or pressure youth to attribute their identity to repressed sexual abuse.

Part of what makes conversion therapy so dangerous is that the same people arguing that being LGBT is a disease are the ones selling the cure. But they aren’t just selling snake oil; they’re selling poison. The conversion therapy industry preys on the confusion and anxiety of well-meaning parents, distilling genuine concern for their family’s well-being into fear that their children are sick. But, with study after study demonstrating how ineffective and harmful these practices are, it’s clear that proponents are not motivated by concern for their patients’ well-being, but by financial gain and anti-LGBT ideology.

Many of the groups who perpetuate the myth that LGBT people can and should be changed here in the United States also advocate for more extreme policies abroad. In countries like Uganda, home of the infamous ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, these myths are being used to persecute and murder LGBT people. Though the conversion therapy industry has undertaken efforts in recent years to make their practices more palatable, especially in the United States, there is a direct connection between the dangerous premises of conversion therapy and a resurgence of global efforts to demonize LGBT people, criminalize their very existence and incite both private and government-sponsored violence against them.

Next week, as representatives of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ #BornPerfect campaign, we will bring the facts about conversion therapy to the Geneva and urge the UN Committee Against Torture and the U.S. State Department to help us bring this issue to the international stage. The time is long overdue for the United States and the rest of the world to address the devastation that the purveyors of these toxic practices wreak in lives of LGBT people. Next week, we’ll give them the chance to end conversion therapy for good.

You can follow us in Geneva by following the hashtags #BornPerfect and #EndTorture, on our website at www.NCLRights.org, and on Twitter @nclrights@SamSAmesEsq, and @SBrinton. You can also share your own stories using these hashtags.

NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign Forms Advisory Committee

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (October 22, 2014)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights announced the formation of the #BornPerfect Advisory Committee, a group of conversion therapy survivors, child welfare and mental health experts, and faith leaders with unique insights into the harms of conversion therapy.

NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign is a national effort aimed at ending conversion therapy in the next five years by passing laws across the country to protect LGBT youth, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices. The campaign is managed by Sam Ames, an attorney at NCLR who focuses on conversion therapy and youth issues.

The committee, led by Ames, is co-chaired by Samuel Brinton and James Guay, MFT, both of whom are survivors of these dangerous and discredited practices. Samuel Brinton, the Fellow for the Clean Energy Program at Third Way, is a recent graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with dual graduate degrees in nuclear engineering and policy, as well as the recipient of the 2014 Courage Award from NCLR along with fellow committee member Ryan Kendall. James Guay is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in LGBTQ affirmative psychotherapy and a member of GAYLESTA, the LGBTQ Psychotherapy Association.

Other members of the committee include Bill Bettencourt, child welfare expert and senior associate at the Center for the Study of Social Policy; Dr. Caitlin Ryan, clinical social worker and director of the Family Acceptance Project; Deb Cuny, survivor and chaplain in residence at St. Francis Memorial Hospital; Rev. Debra W. Haffner, ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and co-founder and president of the Religious Institute; Judith Glassgold, PsyD, licensed psychologist and chair and report co-author of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation; Kimberly Inez McGuire, reproductive justice advocate and director of public affairs at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; Peter Drake, survivor and co-founder of the Coming Out Into Light Foundation; and Ryan Kendall, survivor and witness in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case that invalidated Proposition 8.

Ames and Brinton are scheduled to attend the United Nations Committee Against Torture meeting in Geneva, Switzerland the week of November 10 to educate the committee about the practice of conversion therapy in the United States. NCLR will be joining the U.S. Human Rights Network delegation to elaborate on a shadow report it authored earlier this month explaining that practices attempting to change sexual orientation or gender identity, especially among vulnerable youth, constitute “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” when practiced by individuals and torture per se when facilitated by the government under the Convention Against Torture.

“The time is long overdue for the United States to address the severe harms inflicted on young LGBT people and their families by purveyors of these dangerous and discredited practices,” said Ames. “Persuading the Committee Against Torture to take up the issue of conversion therapy on the international stage has the potential to save the lives of countless LGBT youth in the United States and around the world. Many of the same groups who advocate in favor of conversion therapy in the United States have supported laws in other countries criminalizing LGBT people, such as the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill in Uganda. These laws are often linked with attempts to ‘cure’ sexual orientation or gender identity, whether by coercion or force. Conversion therapy is damaging our human rights record both at home and around the world and creating a crisis the United Nations can and should address this November.”

“Speaking to the U.N. in Geneva will be one of the highlights of my life and my work to end the torture of conversion therapy,” said Brinton. “While I’ve sat across the table from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the need for the elimination of nuclear weapons, it will be this conversation which brings a tear to my eye, one seeking the elimination of a more personal threat. A few years ago no one seemed to care about the horrific experiences of survivors like myself. They truly believed that conversion therapy had be relegated to the dustbin of history. All that has changed. This Kansas boy is about to speak to the most powerful members in the world in a quest to end conversion therapy. You can’t change what we never chose.”

Conversion therapy has been discredited by every major medical and mental health association in the country. Nonetheless, practitioners continue to subject countless LGBT children to efforts to change their sexual orientation and gender identity, causing serious harms that include alienation from their families, severe depression, and even suicide. NCLR has been at the forefront of the effort to protect LGBT young people from these practices for more than 20 years, helping draft and pass the nation’s first laws protecting LGBT children from the dangers of conversion therapy and working in more than a dozen other states to bring protections to LGBT children across the country.

Learn more about the campaign.

Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

Coming Out Against Conversion Therapy

By Sam Ames#BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator & Staff Attorney

Today, on National Coming Out Day, countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people around the world will find the courage,  through one another, to tell the world who they really are. But this day is more than a just a celebration of the freedom to be ourselves.  It commemorates the 1987 National March on Washington, a grass roots protest against the Supreme Court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick upholding criminal sodomy laws, and the Reagan administration’s refusal to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic. At a time when our nation’s leaders were trying to stigmatize us out of existence, silence wasn’t just death. Speaking was survival.

Today, much of the landscape is markedly different. In the United States, we celebrated two major marriage equality victories this week alone, and, in more and more communities, coming out is becoming an accepted rite of passage for LGBTQ adolescents. Sadly, however, the privilege of authenticity is neither secure nor universal. Only 16 years ago tomorrow, Matthew Shepard was murdered for being openly gay. For many queer youth, the risk of violence and the struggle to survive are still daily realities.  This National Coming Out Day, thousands of kids will come out only to face an impossible choice: try their luck on the streets or change the unchangeable.

As far as equal rights have come in the last few years, up to a third of LGBTQ people are still subjected to conversion therapy, among the most damaging forms of psychological abuse a person can endure. Conversion therapy is a range of dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Based on the false premise that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that can and should be cured, it can include everything from talk therapy to exorcisms to “orgasmic reconditioning.” Shockingly, it is still legal for licensed therapists to practice conversion therapy on children in 48 states. The result is lifelong damage that can include depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

The conversion therapy industry preys on the confusion and anxiety of families who don’t know what to do when they discover that their child is LGBTQ. With few exceptions, parents don’t subject their children to conversion therapy out of hate or malice. Tragically, they are almost always motivated by love and concern for their children’s well-being and have no idea what they are risking. When Jane Shurka’s son, Mathew, came out, she and her husband worried that his future would be bleak. A conversion therapist told them he could turn Mathew straight in six weeks. Over the next five years, she watched in agony as her bright young child fall apart. He struggled with anxiety, his grades suffered, and he became seriously depressed. It took five years of turmoil before Mathew was able to embrace his true self. Earlier this year, Jane and Mathew testified together before members of the New York Senate in support of a bill that would protect youth under 18 from conversion therapy. That a licensed professional convinced her to try and change her son, she told legislators, was a tragedy not just for him, but for their whole family. But, like so many brave conversion therapy survivors, Mathew didn’t just survive. He went on to dedicate his life to making sure no one else has to go through what he did.

NCLR is working with legislators and LGBTQ leaders in New York and more than a dozen other states to bring similar protections to young people across the country. We’ve already succeeded in California and Jersey. Although most of these bills are still in the early stages of the legislative process, there is reason for optimism. When anti-conversion therapy laws come up for a vote, they receive broad bipartisan support from lawmakers and enjoy overwhelming backing from mental health practitioners, faith leaders, youth advocates, reproductive justice groups, and civil rights organizations. Protecting our kids from quack medicine is simply not a controversial issue.

Although regulating licensed therapists is an important way to protect LGBTQ youth, not all conversion therapy takes place in a doctor’s office. Some fringe religious leaders still engage in the unregulated practice of conversion therapy in schools and houses of worship. When Jeff White came out at fourteen, his parents sent him to a religious school that promised it could change his sexual orientation. For three years, he endured weekly counseling sessions at the hands of a teacher who routinely raped and sexually assaulted him to convince him that being gay was more painful than suppressing his sexual orientation. He kept his experience hidden from those closest to him, afraid that speaking out would place him and his family in danger. This August, NCLR helped him report the abuse he endured, and, fifteen years later, a formal investigation has finally been launched. Like Mathew, Jeff didn’t just survive either; he went on to found the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, where he serves kids all over the state struggling with intolerance.

In June, NCLR launched #BornPerfect, a campaign to end conversion therapy in five years by passing laws across the country like the one Jane and Mathew advocated for in New York, fighting in courtrooms to ensure the safety of kids like Jeff, and helping other survivors speak out about the devastating effects of these practices. By National Coming Out Day 2015, the state of conversion therapy in the United States could look very different.

But today, we recommit to fighting for those who cannot come out without placing themselves in serious danger at the hands of those who would rather change them than love them for who they are. We recognize the sacrifices many of our youth have made over the years, from Matthew Shepard to Mathew Shurka. We celebrate those who find their way out of the closet and honor those who must protect themselves by staying inside. And, most of all, we celebrate our community’s history of survival, whether by breaking the silence or by braving it.

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on October 10, 2014.