The Personal Cost of LDS Social Services' Theories and Practices
By Rob Killian, M.D., M.P.H.
Originally given at the Sunstone Symposium, August, 1996 in Salt Lake City.
We stand here, Jeff, Trey, and I with professional degrees and experience. We stand here humbly to speak from our hearts. We recognize that our message may be unpopular. We recognize the cost of criticizing an institution supported and financed by the Church.
We have not spoken militantly, nor irrationally today. We have not come to debate theological interpretation of homosexuality. Nor, have we come to tell you that men and women with same-sex desires can not change. We have come to sound a warning, to tell you that men and women are dying, that families are being destroyed and torn apart and the very professionals within these mental health organizations seem to have turned their backs on the role they play in causing continued suffering and pain.
Jeff and Trey have spoken of broad ethical and scientific truths. I would like to close our presentation by bringing up the personal costs of these LDS-associated therapies and practices.
Two weeks ago I sat in a small theater in Olympia, Washington to view a documentary made by a non-Mormon graduate student from Utah. The film, titled LEGACIES, tells the story of four gay Mormons who had personal experience with LDS Social Services' therapy. It was a powerful reminder that above all the rhetoric and theory about homosexuality are human beings struggling to understand the world they live in and what to do with their personal truths.
The first person in this film was a friend of mine. He spoke of his experience at age fifteen, having confessed his homosexual orientation to his bishop and having been sent to BYU, without his parents' knowledge to be "cured" of his sexual orientation.
Once there the therapists explained their treatment plans to him. They would insert an IV into a vein in his arm and while showing him male pornography inject a drug to induce vomiting. This would be followed by heterosexual pornography and the injection of another drug to induce a euphoric state. This was done, mind you, without his parents permission or knowledge. It was to be done repeatedly. When he failed to complete the treatment due to his own horror and discomfort (he had never even seen pornography before) he was sent home with a letter to his bishop describing his unwillingness to be cured. A letter shaming him for his unworthiness and lack of faith. He was fifteen.
I think of my good friend, who also at BYU confessed his homosexuality. He the father of two children, loved his wife and wanted to be cured, wanted to finally be rid of the sexual urges that seemed to be driving him from a normal family life. He was sent to a private LDS therapist in Provo where for eight months he would view homosexual pornography or discuss his sexual desires after taking the vomit-inducing drug called IPECAC. Eight months. He talks to this day of how much anger he holds over this failed treatment;
he talks of how much this pained his therapist. The horror was evident to them both, but the therapist got paid to administer the torture--despite history's evidence that such aversion therapy only served to wound patients further rather than cure them.
As I have collected stories over the past few years of this and other treatment modalities offered to lesbian and gay Mormons, my horror has only deepened. There is a long history of these barbaric theories and practices. From the outside, it appears that if anyone even allows for the possibility of other explanations or experiences in regards to homosexuality, they are banished to a symbolic Siberia within LDS Social Services and within the church. And as each new therapeutic modality replaces the old, there is no apology for or explanation of the previous therapy's failure. Even while this new handbook, while acknowleging that these men and women do not choose their sexual orientation, it offers no apology for the years such claims did to damage those who came before. How can this be the case in a church dedicated to a search for Truth? What are the costs for such experimentation with human souls?
As a homosexual who himself survived the very theories that we have discussed today, I can attest to the damage these have on vulnerable patients and their families. I have sat with an LDS Social Services therapist and been completely disbelieved when I did not fit into his definition of a homosexual or how I got this way. I did not know then how inappropriate he was in our interactions and relationship. He was the professional then. But, now, I am forever sorry that this man holds a professional license and continues to
serve vulnerable and hurting men and women and their families here in Utah.
The reparative theories that LDS Social Services is practicing is about finding blame for one's sexual misdevelopment. It is not about healing. The treatment offered by Social Services is to further subdivide the patient's person into good and bad parts, to repress and "overcome," to hate the bad parts. It is not about unifying and healing. It is not about understanding one's self. It is almost like they want to induce a schizoid state in their patients.
A counselor is under a sacred obligation to validate the feelings, experience and pain of the patient and to enter the therapeutic relationship without a personal agenda other than assisting the patient to discover his/her own truths, assisting them to be completely honest with themselves and with the therapist. This must be a safe place for honesty and discovery. Yet, in practice, homosexual patients under the care of LDS Social Services must conform to a predefined stereotype and therapeutic plan or experience another "failure;" there is no room for complete honesty. There is very little room for confidentiality, since therapists often work in tandem with church leaders, sharing information back and forth. There is no safety in this . . . especially when one's membership rides on the outcome of the therapy, when one's standing at a church-sponsored school is placed in jeopardy if the therapy is not "successful."
LDS Social Services have responded to such criticism before with the argument that their patients want to change, that they are desperate to be cured. What the therapist is obligated then is to address this dissonance and pain. There should be no divided loyalties in this relationship. The therapist is not to assist in causing further pain, or setting the patient up for failure. The therapist is there to assist the patient tell their own story, to assist the patient in facing themselves honestly and without condemnation. "Listening to the truth of someone's life is a privlege and an honor. When you tell someone your history, they should receive it as such."
In practice, I experienced, and many men that I have talked to have described, how the Social Services' therapist kept trying to get them to blame their fathers, to find fault with their mothers. I remember when my mother visited LDS Social Services with me. The therapist was most intent on eliciting more information about my father and my parents' personal relationship. What sort of dysfunctions existed in my family? There were no answers as to why my brothers and sisters turned out heterosexual in the same family environment. Nor are there any such answers in the pages of social services publications.
Even when the theory does not fit the reality of the family from which these men came, the therapist often uses that as evidence that the patient is lying or hiding some fundamental truth that kept them from discovering a way to be cured of their homosexuality. So, if the patient can't blame his or her parents, then they are blamed for their lack of ability to be cured. The patient is in a no-win position. If they are not cured, they either are not willing to be cured, or they lack the faith for the cure, another common accusation made by professionals and church leaders to those who do not succeed appropriately.
Dean Byrd, an administrator in LDS Social Services said in a 1993 interview that reparative therapy is not about blaming parents, yet this handbook is nearly rabid in its attempts to blame the parents or dysfunctional family for the predicament these patients find themselves in.
Parents of homosexuals carry an inordinate amount of guilt already. Many parents, especially mothers, have known since their children were very young that they were different. Many have tried for years to influence their children into more common social behaviors and attitudes. These children, often after years of prayer, secrecy, fasting, self-hatred, confusion, public condemnation, finally appear in a therapists' office--vulnerable, desperate for help, desperate for understanding. These parents, after years of fearing the worst, appear at the professionals' offices desperate for answers, for assistance; desperate to find out where they went wrong and desperate to find someone who will love and understand their child as much as they do.
The handbook is all too willing to tell them they did wrong, but offers no specific proof of this. It describes how parents who notice that their children are behaving in ways uncommon to general gender roles, i.e. if their sons like ballet or dolls or their daughters want to play with trucks, these children and their families must be found and brought into therapy, preferably before age five. The handbook goes into ways of informing parents of their need to change and accept the responsibility for causing their sons and daughters to be such socially unacceptable people.
This book is not a joke. Socially defined gender roles are written of as if they are gospel truths. Can you imagine all the trauma parents and children will go through if these suggestions are taken literally? Can you imagine how this would be translated in other cultures? Can you imagine the witchhunt in our Mormon community if all the boys who play with dolls or like to dance are forced into therapy regarding sexuality? Or, if their fathers are confronted as poor fathers just because of their sons' recreational interests? Can you imagine the dynamics of such father--son interactions thereafter?
Not to mention the sexism this has when looked at from a female perspective. The tomboys among us are suddenly going to be looked at more closely. Aggresive, strong, brave women will have one more demerit in our Mormon culture. They will be labeled and damaged by the intense accusation that they might be lesbian. This in an era when we are realizing that we have socialized females inappropriately already.
Even as I prepared for this presentation, months after reading and reviewing this handbook, I find it unbelievable that my church could fund and then publish such rubbish. I find it unbelievable that I would, along with other friends, have to travel to Salt Lake and raise a warning voice to parents and church leaders that lunacy appears to have overtaken this respectable organization. Where are the honest and ethical medical and psychotherapy professionals in Utah? Why have they not arisen in shock and disbelief to these pathetic and dangerous ideas? Besides Dr. Gary Watts, the father of a gay son, no professional seems to care. Why, in our most vulnerable emotional states are we being referred to as men and women who have abandoned all reason and experience just to protect a theological theory?
I have so many questions.
Shirley Cox, an instructor of counseling at BYU, a therapist herself, and associated with Evergreen, was interviewed in March by the local press regarding the flurry of issues that arose over the homosexual support club at East High. In that interview she held out the party line as the only rational explanation for homosexuality. And, then she promised startling results from a study in progress. A promise that she has the cure for homosexuality. Her response serves as very symbolic of the very criticism we are here to voice. Her study was described as having fifteen patients. She refused to explain more, nor did she give any details on who was included or excluded from the study. She did not acknowledge how such a small number of study participants could be representative of all those who are homosexual. She did not clarify study design, or how it would be verified that these patients have indeed been changed, or if they continued to be so changed once they leave the protected environment of her office. It sounded more like election year pandering for support than professional scientific honesty.
We are standing here today because men and women are dying in our community. They are dying because there appears to be no safe place for them to be honest; no safe place for them to share their despair. No room for them to share their pain without the threat of excommunication or ostracization from their families, their community of faith, from the very life they have always dreamed of living. They are dying because of the pain they feel they are causing others.
We are standing here today because men and women are being forced to remain silent to survive in this community. Many of these men and women are entering marriages with unsuspecting partners of the opposite sex who thus become part of an experiment to prove that there is indeed some cure. These families, when they fall apart, carry unbelievable pain. Yet, does anyone in authority care? The women who I have come to know over the past few years who have been married to homosexual men have so much anger and pain and justifiably so. Yet, these marriages continue to be applauded and encouraged by Social Services and other LDS-associated mental health professionals.
We are standing here to support our families. They have been blamed, inappropriately enough. It is time for the madness to end. It is time for healing. It is time for families to be supported and understood in all of their complexity.
We are here because it is time for an honest dialogue. The LDS Church's mental health professionals, whether directly affiliated with Social Services or with AMCAP, have painted themselves into a corner where their own writings and therapy practices are putting themselves at odds with accepted professional ethical standards and endangering our brothers and sisters, your sons and daughters' lives; their physical, spiritual and mental well being is at stake. These professionals have put all their credibility in with fringe elements in their profession who would rather publish wild accusations and myths than to design and publish the true experiences of their practices. They have painted all other information and experience as suspect, apostate
or worse "evil."
We are here to warn the church and all who would listen that those affiliated therapists are not fulfilling their missions as mental health professionals or as saints. They have an agenda to direct their patients into one approved outcome; And those who do not conform be damned.
Too many of them are.
As a gay Mormon, a professional, a father of two sons, and as a son of faithful Mormons and Mormon pioneers, I am standing here today to say it is time for honesty--for honest listening and honest discussion. We stand here individually today as your sons--and warn you that enough families have been destroyed, enough suicides have occurred, enough marriages of convenience and faith have begun in dishonesty. And enough of those marriages have ended in divorce leaving enough children struggling to understand the confusing divided loyalties of their parents.
Enough tears have been shed.
We are standing here to ask for a hearing with the leaders of the church and LDS Social Services--a détente, if you will. We have all lost enough to warrant the consideration of such an offer.