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.

NCLR Launches National Campaign to Protect LGBT Kids from Dangers of Conversion Therapy

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (June 24, 2014)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is launching #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy, a national effort aimed at protecting LGBT kids from the harms caused by attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, including alienation from their families, severe depression, and suicide attempts.

Few practices hurt LGBT children more than attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts.” Yet some unethical counselors and therapists continue to subject young LGBT people to these practices—which often include the use of shame and verbal abuse—even though they have been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization in the country.

NCLR has been at the forefront of the effort to protect LGBT kids from these practices for more than 20 years, successfully working to help draft and pass California’s Senate Bill 1172 in 2012, the nation’s first to protect LGBT children from the dangers of conversion therapy. The following year, NCLR helped New Jersey pass a similar law and is now working with legislators and LGBT leaders in more than a dozen other states to bring protections to LGBT kids across the country.

“The time is long overdue to stop the severe harms being inflicted on young LGBT children and their families by these dangerous practices,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “These practices have been thoroughly discredited by every major mental health organization, and yet, every day, unethical therapists continue to abuse their professional authority to deceive parents and wreck the lives of youth who deserve nothing but support.” Through #BornPerfect, NCLR:

  • Provides state legislators and LGBT leaders with comprehensive resources and a solid foundation to build statewide campaigns;
  • Works closely with state legislators and LGBT leaders throughout the legislative process, including drafting legislation, coordinating hearings with key witnesses, and gaining support to pass legislation;
  • Raises awareness about these dangerous practices and the lasting harm they cause in the lives of LGBT children by empowering survivors and providing them with the support to speak out about their experiences;
  • Fights in court for the safety and well-being of LGBT kids.

Ryan Kendall was a teenager when he went through conversion therapy—an experience that altered his life, resulting in him running away from his family’s Colorado home and legally separating himself from his parents so he would no longer have to endure hurtful and traumatic visits with his therapist. The ordeal would cost Kendall his family and more than a decade of his life in which he sank into depression and substance abuse.

“By 16, I had lost everything,” said Kendall, now 31, and a recent graduate of Columbia University with plans on attending law school. “My family and my faith had rejected me, and the damaging messages of conversion therapy, coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide. I am lucky that I survived, but I will never be able to recover the years I lost to feeling worthless and suicidal because a therapist convinced my family that being gay is a mental illness and that who I am is shameful and wrong. These practices are child abuse, pure and simple.”

“No LGBTQ kid should ever have to endure what I did,” said Deb Cuny, 34, who went through the practice as a teenager and spent years being prayed over and even exorcised in an attempt to keep her family intact and fulfill her dream of becoming a minister. “No child should ever be told that they are broken, pressured into being cleansed of evil that doesn’t exist, or forced to choose between being honest about who they are and being loved. I absolutely believe the #BornPerfect campaign is going to save lives and put a long overdue end to conversion therapy.”

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.

Dev Cuny (fka Deb Cuny)

NCLR Contributor

As a child, I loved to dress up in my dad’s Sunday best to preach the Good News of Jesus to a congregation of furry stuffed animals. Little did I know that my favorite form of make-believe would foreshadow the painful journey of deciding between a call to ministry and fully embracing my own expression of humanity that separated me from the very church I loved. It would take many years before I learned the two were not separate.

It is an extremely isolating experience to come out as a teenager in an Evangelical Christian family in a small Southern town. As a young person, the face of God in my life was the face of my family and church. I knew with relative ease that I was gay, but accepting the implications of what that meant for my life was nearly unbearable. The church taught some of the closest people in my life—my family, spiritual leaders, friends in the congregation—that as a gay person, I was no longer welcomed at Jesus’ Table. I was sick; I needed to be fixed. Having experienced an intimate relationship with God, I felt my life shatter as I witnessed this church family I trusted most reject me. My own understanding of unconditional love drastically changed as I was abandoned at the time when I most needed to know that God loved me. The face of God transformed from one of love to one of deep judgment and disappointment.

Those around me were taught that to love me meant to save me from my own sexuality. I remember sobbing in my chair at a conference while 10,000+ youth gave a standing ovation to Jerry Falwell as he preached, “There is no such thing as Adam and Steve!” I watched as members of my community engaged in intense prayer asking God for my salvation, something I never thought I could lose. My youth group leaders eventually stopped talking to me. After I decided to move out of the house, members of my faith community came into my childhood bedroom to cleanse it of the demons they believed I had brought into my home because of my “lifestyle.” I couldn’t help but believe I was the demon they were trying to erase from my own childhood home.

My family, in their own attempt to seek help and support, became involved in the ex-gay ministry Exodus International, and eventually began volunteering regularly at a local ex-gay organization called Crossover Ministries. Embroiled in my own struggle to maintain a relationship with my family and with God, I agreed to meet with people who were undergoing treatment for their sexuality. I began regularly engaging in conversations with communities who reinforced my own fear that I had chosen my own self-interests over the love of God. I believed I was irrevocably broken, which made me try even harder to find the root of my illness so I could heal and regain God’s love.

The pull toward ministry continued into college. Believing that I couldn’t answer the call to ministry if I was active in my romantic life, I went through intermittent periods of celibacy. I tried many times to find a home in the Evangelical church, and asked several ministers if I could attend their services. The response I received time and time again was that I was welcome, but only on the condition that I entered counseling or abstain from sexual involvement.

My growing self-hatred eventually led me to agree to the most abusive spiritual practice of my life—a Deliverance. Often labeled an exorcism, the goal of a Deliverance in the Assembly of God Church is to pray away the demons that keep a person from fully embracing God’s love. Over a period of six hours, I went through intense prayer and extraordinary anger as the ministers physically and aggressively handled me while they screamed in my face, believing they were confronting the Demon of Perversion inside me. It was during the Deliverance that I realized this wasn’t working. I was still gay. Before they could finish the Deliverance, I stopped them. I left the room wailing as the lead pastor yelled after me, “You just chose hell.”

In the years that followed, I experienced bouts of depression, disillusionment, and numbness as I tried to move forward as an openly gay person who was no longer a Christian. But something was missing. I would regularly get drunk just so I could listen to the Christian music of my childhood church. It was the only way I could find to touch this deeply buried wound and desire for God.

In my late 20s, I met a friend and mentor who introduced me to a contemplative service at a local Episcopal church. It was at this service where I saw my first female minister and heard my first rector say, “Every person is welcomed, gay or straight.” I still avoided taking communion for years even at the gay-supportive Metropolitan Community Church because, deep down, I believed that gay people weren’t truly Christian. But it was here at this Episcopal church that I was compelled to walk down the aisle and participate in the most transformative Meal of my life—Eucharist. It was here that I first realized I, too, may have a place at The Table.

The experience of welcome at the Episcopal church reawakened my call to ministry, which eventually led me to attend seminary in Berkeley, CA. There, I continued to grapple with extreme internalized homophobia and loss of faith, but I also began to slowly gain a new church family. I found the support I needed to seek out healing, but this time the healing included integrating my call to God with my Divinely-created sexual and gender identity.

My family began their own healing process, and my parents shifted their views of what it meant to love others as Christ loves. The changes in my own family have helped me to restore my own faith in God. I can now say that I have witnessed a miracle. My family is becoming more and more a part of my support network, showing me the importance of reconciliation, compassion, accountability, justice, and grace for our larger Family — the family that will never abandon me.

While I continue to struggle to believe that I am an equal child of God, every year I hear the crack of another broken shackle. My family recently attended my seminary graduation where I had the opportunity to publicly thank them for fighting to love and support me. They received two standing ovations from my new faith community. Their attendance was an act of love that gave me the strength I needed to accept a chaplaincy position at a San Francisco Hospital where I hope to continue living into the role of wounded healer. I now believe that it is when I allow my own wounds to be touched and healed, that I am better able to serve as a part of this new face of God, so that others may experience the unconditional love that I so desperately craved as a gay teenager.