What is Conversion Therapy? Inside The Controversial ‘Gay Cure’ Mike Pence Says He Supports

Alicia Bayer - Author

Nov. 11 2016, Updated 9:03 a.m. ET

When news spread that Vice President-Elect Mike Pence supports conversion therapy, two questions arose from many people in the United States: Did Pence really say that, and what is conversion therapy?

Mike Pence has, in fact, gone on record supporting the controversial “gay cure.” In fact, he advocated for cutting HIV funding and giving the money to groups that practice conversion therapy, BuzzFeed has reported.

In a section titled “The Pence Agenda” on his website in 2000, he said that HIV funding should not be given to any HIV treatment groups that support homosexuality, and those taxpayer dollars should be diverted to groups that claim to be able to change LGBTQ people to heterosexuals.

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“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

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The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which Pence wanted to drain, works with cities, states and community-based organizations to provide HIV care and treatment to more than a half a million people each year. It provides services to approximately 52 percent of all those diagnosed with HIV in the United States.


What is conversion therapy? The Human Rights Campaign says that conversion therapy, which is also sometimes called reparative therapy, is “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

Conversion therapy practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, they say.

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“Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.”

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Conversion Therapy Survivors lists a number of practices that are typically used in conversion therapy, including exposure to heterosexual pornography, aversion therapy involving electroshock or other negative stimulus, counseling by untrained laymen, instructions to practice sexual celibacy and abstinence from masturbation for life, identifying “root causes” of homosexuality such as bad parenting, and participating in inpatient treatment programs, among others.

Survivors of conversion therapy report lasting negative effects of the practice, including shame, guilt, depression, self imposed isolation, loss of faith, confusion, loss of trust, PTSD, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.


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In a survey of more than 400 survivors of conversion therapy by Beyond Ex-Gay, survivors commented on how the treatment damaged their social, emotional, financial, spiritual and sexual health and well-being.

“The financial cost of ex-gay ministry is not what I paid during the experience, but the thousands of dollars I have spent for therapy to get over the experience,” wrote one survivor.

“I lost 20 years of living to the lies of the ex-gay crowd, and never once saw a single person become straight,” wrote another survivor. “I wish I could sue for fraud.”

Others wrote about being sexually abused by therapists, being told that they were reacting to abuse they never experienced, and other devastating effects.

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“Self-hatred, isolation, depression, and flashbacks continue to be mental health issues.”

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The study found that 84.2 percent of the participants said they were still affected by the harm of their conversion therapy experiences today.

Some advocates for conversion therapy cite a 2003 study that reportedly showed that some patients had changed their sexual orientation after undergoing conversion therapy. Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer reported in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior that interviews with conversion therapy patients suggested that some people could change their sexual orientation, Live Science reported.

However, Spitzer himself later acknowledged that his own study was basically worthless. In a letter to the editor of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2012, he admitted he had no way of knowing if the interviewees were telling the truth and that there was still no proof that conversion therapy was ever effective.

“I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy,” he wrote.


Conversion therapy is banned for minors in the states of California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia, and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation. Oklahoma, however, has introduced legislation which would specifically legitimize conversion therapy and prevent any state oversight.

[Featured Image by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock]


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