How hard is it to love a 5-year-old child unconditionally, or a child of any age for that matter? If you believe God created each of us, how do you decide some of his creations, especially children, are disposable – that they are junk?
Yet, that’s what happens in the sick world of the charlatans who pass themselves off as “reparative therapists.” These people aren’t harmless quacks. They are psychological assassins who use fear to convince confused, vulnerable parents to give up their children to programs of mental terror.
Anderson Cooper 360 launched a three-part series about this on Tuesday. It included interviews with the mother and siblings of a preschool boy sent to a government-funded “reparative therapy” program at UCLA in the 1970s. The program was supervised by the infamous George Rekers, whose writings have been widely discredited but are still used by some who want to promote this violent destructive idea.
Varmints like Rekers, feigning professional credibility, work in communities in Texas and across the country. Some get rich, and many develop personal followings by holding out false hope that they can change the most fundamental aspect of a child’s psyche.
The disgusting unforgivable part of what they do is that those actually trained in psychology know better.
No credible study shows this type of “treatment” can alter something that basic in any human. In fact, the potential for irreparable harm is so great the American Psychological Association has issued an official statement opposing this practice. It reads:
Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or “repair” homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of “cures” are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, “reparative” therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to First, do no harm.
Cooper interviewed family members who recalled instructions Rekers gave to withhold maternal empathy from the boy and to construct a merit-punishment system for his behavior. That system included weekly beatings from the father that raised welts on the 5-year-old boy’s butt and back as punishment for not showing “masculine behavior.”
Cooper’s investigation works, because so far it hasn’t fallen into a political or theological “he said v. he said” debate. (Parts 2 and 3 air Wednesday and Thursday.) Part 1 had a narrative arc that found truth by tracing the undeniable impact and human toll of Rekers’ “experiment” more than 30 years later.
We learned in that story the boy quickly withdrew from all social interaction, and that he was unable his entire life to form lasting friendships or any romantic partnership. Seven years ago, at the age of 38, the man he grew up to be hung himself from a ceiling fan, half-way across the world alone in a small apartment in New Dehli, India.
I’m a bit puzzled that Cooper didn’t fully identify Rekers. Perhaps it’s because we all know in the back of our mind how stories like this usually play out.
Decades after Rekers tortured that child and others at UCLA, after using his “research” and “experiments” to make a national name for himself and testifying against gay adoption and gay marriage, and after serving on the founding board of the Family Research Council, Rekers was busted last year in a Miami airport returning from a European vacation with a male escort from Rentboy.com.
I don’t have children, but I was a gay kid. I also was a board member and volunteer years ago at a gay teen support organization in Austin. Some of those kids had been sent to “reparative therapy.”
One weekend, I got a panicked call from one of my favorites about another teen in our weekly “rap group.” The other kid had slit his wrists. I rushed to where they were, and we got him to a hospital. He lived, but I’ll never forget visiting that bright, sweet, handsome boy barely in his teens in a psychiatric ward with bandages on his wrists. An image like that stays with you the rest of your life.