Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies support turning LGBTQ people straight through harmful reparative therapy

Major anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has teamed up with a cohort of similar groups to whitewash their images and mainstream hate, and nearly every one of them supports harmful reparative therapy for LGBTQ people. Reparative therapy, which attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity, has been discredited by every mainstream medical group for decades and has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims. ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the country and a legal powerhouse; it’s currently preparing oral arguments for a Supreme Court case about LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of “religious” or “artistic” freedom.

  • ADF is teaming up with a league of anti-LGBTQ groups and extremists to whitewash their images

    ADF has teamed up with more than a dozen hate and right-wing anti-LGBTQ groups to attack the “hate group” designation and whitewash their bigotry. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, is working with a number of other groups to whitewash their bigotry and undermine the “hate group” designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). As such, it has co-signed two letters opposing the designation and formally joined an “SPLCexposed” campaign alongside other anti-LGBTQ hate and right-wing groups. These groups are the Family Research Council (FRC), Liberty Counsel, Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), National Organization for Marriage (NOM), D. James Kennedy Ministries, American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), American Family Association (AFA), the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), Ruth Institute, National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) and Equality and Justice for All, Illinois Family Institute (IFI), and American Values. [Media Matters, 9/28/17]

    ADF is representing the plaintiff -- a Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding -- in the Masterpiece Supreme Court case. ADF is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips in the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. The case may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious” or “artistic freedom.” A gay couple sued Phillips, a Christian baker, after he refused to bake a cake for their wedding, and the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled against Phillips and ADF’s arguments that his First Amendment rights were violated. According to The New York Times, LGBTQ advocates contend that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Phillips “would mark the marriages of gay couples as second-class unions unworthy of legal protection” and could “amount to a broad mandate for discrimination” against LGBTQ people. [The New York Times, 9/16/17]

    ADF has repeatedly demonstrated its support for harmful reparative therapy

    ADF defended prominent “ex-gay” and reparative therapy activist Christopher Doyle in court. In 2014, The Baltimore Sun reported that ADF represented therapist and “ex-gay” activist Christopher Doyle, who claimed he could help LGBTQ people get rid of “unwanted same-sex attractions.” Doyle currently works for two “ex-gay” advocacy organizations -- Equality and Justice for All and the National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) -- and signed both letters attacking the “hate group” label on behalf of both groups. Doyle hired ADF to determine whether he could file a defamation case against a Maryland lawmaker who “introduced a bill … that would have banned licensed clinicians from providing [reparative] therapy to minors.” From The Baltimore Sun’s May 11, 2014, report:

    Christopher Doyle says he doesn't think there is anything wrong with being gay, but he also believes he can help children and others rid themselves of “unwanted same-sex attractions” through therapy sessions in a tidy suburban home in Bowie.


    While Doyle defends his practice and conservative Christian groups cast the issue as a matter of religious freedom, most recognized psychological, psychiatric and pediatric medical associations say such therapy has the potential to cause serious damage, especially for young people.

    “I will fight vociferously for their right to say what they want to say, their First Amendment right to free speech, but I will not stand idle if I feel people, especially vulnerable populations, are being treated in a way that could have detrimental effects for a lifetime,” said Del. Jon S. Cardin.

    The Baltimore County Democrat introduced a bill this year that would have banned licensed clinicians from providing such therapy to minors. The bill was withdrawn as gay advocates focused attention on passage of a long-awaited bill adding gender identity to a list of classes, including sexual orientation, to be protected from housing and employment discrimination. Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign that bill.


    Doyle says he has never received a complaint from a patient, and has obtained legal representation from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization focused on defending religious liberties, to look into whether Doyle's foundation has grounds to file a defamation case against Cardin, who is running for state attorney general. [The Baltimore Sun, 5/11/14; Immigration Reform Law Institute, 6/21/17; Family Research Council, 9/6/17]

    One of ADF’s “heavy hitter” allied attorneys fought New Jersey’s ban on the practice. ADF-allied attorney Demetrios Stratis represented two plaintiffs in New Jersey in 2014 who were challenging the state’s ban on ex-gay therapy. According to ThinkProgress, “two lawsuits were filed challenging the law, one by therapists wishing to continue to practice the harmful treatment and one by a family seeking to continue the treatment for their son.” The report noted that “the plaintiffs in this case made the same arguments that the therapists made in theirs; in fact, they were represented by the same lawyer -- Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) affiliate Demetrios Stratis.” Their arguments included that the reparative therapy ban “infringes on their freedom of speech,” that the law “infringes upon their free exercise of religion,” and that “the law infringes upon the parents’ ‘due process rights to care for the mental health of their child as they see fit.’” ADF’s website calls Stratis “one of the ‘heavy hitters’ among the allied attorneys of Alliance Defending Freedom” and praises him for “coming to bat in the crucial innings of some of the ministry’s most important cases.” From ThinkProgress’ July 31, 2014, report:

    After New Jersey passed its ban on ex-gay therapy for minors last year, two lawsuits were filed challenging the law, one by therapists wishing to continue to practice the harmful treatment and one by a family seeking to continue the treatment for their son. In November, a federal judge ruled against the therapists, and on Thursday, the same judge dismissed the family’s challenge, again upholding the ban.

    The ruling somewhat comes out of the blue. The case had been stayed back in March while the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether to take up an appeal in a similar case in California. Last month, the Supreme Court announced it would not be hearing the case, allowing the Ninth Circuit’s ruling upholding California’s similar ban on ex-gay therapy to stand. With that settled, Judge Freda Wolfson now felt it appropriate to issue a decision in this second case.

    The plaintiffs in this case made the same arguments that the therapists made in theirs; in fact, they were represented by the same lawyer — Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) affiliate Demetrios Stratis. ADF is a large conservative legal group committed to restoring “the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” [ThinkProgress, 7/31/14; Alliance Defending Freedom, accessed 9/26/17]

    A reparative therapy advocacy group lists ADF as a “trusted allied organization.” Active reparative therapy group The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, which describes itself as “principled advocates for persons experiencing unwanted homosexual attractions,” currently lists ADF as one of its “trusted allied organizations” on its website. [The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, accessed 9/26/17]

    Reparative therapy is a discredited, harmful practice that has been condemned by every mainstream medical group

    Human Rights Campaign: Reparative therapy has “been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades.” The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) defines reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, as “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” HRC noted that though those practices “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades,” the practice is legal and being practiced in many places across the United States. HRC compiled the positions of more than a dozen medical and counseling organizations against reparative therapy. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics -- a 64,000-member association of physicians not to be confused with the American College of Pediatricians, a small, anti-LGBTQ hate group -- said that the practice “can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.” Similarly, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) said that the so-called therapy’s potential risks “include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 9/22/17; Snopes, 5/20/16]

    Nearly all of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ collaborators have expressed support for harmful reparative therapy

    FRC has explicitly endorsed reparative therapy and attacked medical groups as biased for their condemnation of the harmful practice. A Family Research Council (FRC) “Washington Update” post said that “gay-conversion therapy … has been hugely successful at steering young people toward their natural expression of sexuality.” FRC’s Peter Sprigg has written a number of posts in support of reparative therapy on FRC’s website, and he has even accused medical groups that condemn the practice, such as the APA, of not being “immune to political and ideological bias, particularly on the issue of homosexuality.” As recently as March, Sprigg praised therapists practicing the harmful therapy, recommending the books Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach, which he described as “a guide to ‘reparative therapy’ for clinicians,” and A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, which he called “an important work for a more general audience.” [Family Research Council, accessed 9/13/17, 8/27/14, accessed 9/13/17, 3/10/17]

    Liberty Counsel filed a brief to the Supreme Court in favor of reparative therapy and once launched a “Change is Possible” campaign to include “the ex-gay viewpoint.” Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court and testified before Congress against laws banning reparative therapy in 2014. Staver referred to those bans as “attacks on religious freedom of licensed mental health professionals, minors, and their parents.” Liberty Counsel also represented parents, children, and counselors who practice reparative therapy in federal court in a challenge to a law banning the practice. In 2006, the group launched a “Change is Possible Campaign,” which encouraged students “to start Gay to Straight Clubs, and ask that the ex-gay viewpoint be included in all diversity day presentations that discuss homosexuality.” In 2013, Staver received the “Ex-Gay Freedom Award” for his group’s promotion of reparative therapy and frequent lawsuits against bans that prohibit it. And in 2017, when the commissioners of Miami-Dade County, FL, failed to pass a conversion therapy ban on October 3, Liberty Counsel issued a press release in which Staver praised the decision, saying, “Municipalities have no authority to invade the counselor-client relationship. … Licensed counselors and unlicensed persons all have First Amendment rights to counsel minors against the harms of homosexuality and gender confusion.” The press release said the group had “been instrumental in defeating such bans at the state level in numerous states, including Florida.” [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 9/13/17; Liberty Counsel, 11/19/12, 12/4/06, 10/3/17; Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 9/14/17; Miami Herald, 10/3/17]

    PJI filed a lawsuit against California’s ban on reparative therapy and has touted a wildly false statistic about the success of therapy. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) filed a lawsuit against a 2012 California law banning “licensed mental health professionals in California from practicing therapies that seek to make gay and lesbian youths straight.” PJI President Brad Dacus said that the law “directly threatens the rights of parents and how they choose to address the issue of same-sex attraction with their children,” as well as threatening the children and “the rights and the professional duties of licensed counselors … by dictating them to affirm homosexual same-sex attraction as well as the sexual conduct resulting from that attraction.” In 2017, the Supreme Court declined to hear PJI’s challenge on the ban after “years of legal proceedings.” Dacus responded to the decision, saying the group was “deeply disappointed by today’s announcement, because it means young people in California and elsewhere will not be able to get the professional help they seek, due to political correctness.” According to ThinkProgress, Dacus has falsely claimed that reparative therapy has an “80-85 percent success rate.” [The San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/2/12; PBS, 5/3/17; ThinkProgress, 5/21/12]

    NOM repeatedly promoted a study claiming that conversion therapy shows “change to be possible for some” and that it is “not harmful on average” and defended groups that practice it. The National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) website linked to a study that broke from the wide professional consensus and claimed that changing sexual orientation is “possible for some” and that reparative therapy is “not harmful on average.” NOM President Brian Brown commented on the story, saying even LGBTQ advocates “should feel good about this scientific verification of the possibility of free will triumphing over desire.” NOM has posted numerous defenses of specific reparative therapy practices, including Jewish reparative therapy group JONAH, which SPLC sued for its harmful practice; a reparative therapy practice run by Michele Bachmann’s husband; and a U.K. therapist who was investigated for his reparative therapy practice. Additionally, NOM promoted an “FRC documentary claiming that sexual orientation can be changed and including conversion therapists.” [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 9/18/17; National Organization for Marriage, 9/28/11, 9/29/11, 7/18/13, 7/13/11, 4/23/12; Media Matters, 5/22/12]

    D. James Kennedy Ministries representative criticized a so-called “ex-gay” leader who renounced the movement, saying he was “no longer [trying] to fight these urges.” In 2013, Right Wing Watch reported that one of D. James Kennedy Ministries’ representatives (the group was then called Truth In Action Ministries) had criticized a so-called “ex-gay” leader who renounced the movement, comparing him to an ex-smoker who “lit up again” and “no longer [tried] to fight these urges” and saying that “rejection of the ex-gay movement is nothing short of ‘blasphemy.’” D. James Kennedy Ministries was named after and founded by the late evangelical pastor and Christian media personality D. James Kennedy. According to a 2017 Sun Sentinel report, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Commissioner Dean Trantalis, who was the city’s “first openly gay commissioner,” noted that Kennedy supported “reparative therapy in which he strongly advocated trying to ‘pray away the gay,’ and to force young kids into trying to deny their sexual orientation.” From the Sun Sentinel’s August 24 report:

    “Let’s not forget the legacy of D. James Kennedy,” [Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean] Trantalis said, recalling the environment in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He said Kennedy stood with people opposed to LGBT rights “and supported everything that they said to denigrate the LGBT community at that time.” Trantalis pointed to his support for “reparative therapy in which he strongly advocated trying to ‘pray away the gay,’ and to force young kids into trying to deny their sexual orientation.”

    “They may not want to bring up those episodes of the past. They perhaps remember him in a different way. But this community will never forget the legacy that he leaves behind,” said Trantalis, who participated in demonstrations in front of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, and at Kennedy’s Reclaiming America for Christ gatherings at the Broward County Convention Center. [Sun Sentinel, 8/24/17; Right Wing Watch, 4/30/13; D. James Kennedy Ministries, accessed 9/13/17]

    ACPeds wrote that reparative therapy is no “more or less harmful than the use of psychotherapy to treat any other unwanted psychological or behavioral adaptation.” The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a small anti-LGBTQ hate group with a membership estimated to be “between 60 and 200 pediatricians” whose name is easily mistaken for the legitimate medical organization the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a group composed of 64,000 physicians. ACPeds published a January 2016 review on its website saying that “science does not support laws that prohibit minors with [unwanted homosexual attraction] from receiving psychotherapy in accordance with their personal goals and values.” The post stated that reparative therapy is no “more or less harmful than the use of psychotherapy to treat any other unwanted psychological or behavioral adaptation.” ACPeds’ conclusion attacked the American Psychological Association, saying its position against the harmful therapy is a result of “political correctness” and accusing the medical association of bias. ACPeds recommended that legislation banning the practice “be reversed” and unequivocally stated that it “supports an adolescent’s right to psychotherapy for [unwanted homosexual attraction] under the care of licensed mental health professionals.” According to Psychology Today, ACPeds also sent a letter in 2010 to “14,000 school district superintendents promoting reparative therapy for gay and lesbian students.” The letter incorrectly cited National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, who “swiftly denounced their letter as misleading and dangerous.” [Snopes, 5/20/16; American College of Pediatricians, January 2016; Psychology Today, 5/8/17]

    AFA condemned Obama’s call for a ban on “reparative therapy,” said the practice is “desperately wanted help for … tormented” children. After President Barack Obama called for an end to reparative therapy, the American Family Association’s (AFA) Bryan Fischer wrote an April 2015 post attacking the then-president and saying that Obama “wants to make it impossible for parents to get even desperately wanted help for their tormented child.” Fischer said that what “Obama is calling for is nothing less than the emotional equivalent of child kidnapping” and described it as “cruelty to children and an intolerable form of child abuse.” AFA also launched a March 2017 petition to stop a proposed New Mexico bill banning conversion therapy. [American Family Association, 4/10/15, 3/27/17; Vice, 4/7/17]

    C-Fam’s Austin Ruse said Brazil’s decision to uphold reparative therapy was “exactly the right thing” and defended reparative therapy techniques, including acting out “childhood sexual abuse,” as “a respected technique in the mental health professions.” In September 2017, after a Brazilian judge ruled conversion therapy legal in the country, Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), asserted that the judge “did exactly the right thing,” saying, “To tell adults they may not receive talk therapy for a personal issue that’s bothering them is a monstrous strike against freedom.” In a 2015 response in Breitbart to a lawsuit against Jewish reparative therapy group JONAH, Ruse called harmful reparative therapy techniques outlined by four men suing the group “respected technique[s] in the mental health professions.” From Breitbart’s June 10, 2015, post:

    Plaintiff’s counsel are making much of the psychodrama techniques used by JONAH and the groups related to it. Jurors are hearing stories about the defendants being held and rocked while in a fetal position, pounding on pillows and shouting out their mothers’ names and even acting our childhood sexual abuse. It may sound shocking to jurors but the technique is a respected technique in the mental health professions. [Breitbart, 6/10/15; LifeSite, 9/21/17]

    Ruth Institute’s Jennifer Morse said that “people who seek therapy ... for changing their sexual orientation” can experience “relief from some of the symptoms.” Ruth Institute founder Jennifer Morse condemned California’s reparative therapy ban, passed in 2012. Morse said that there are “documented cases of people who seek therapy, who seek help for changing their sexual orientation who have received some benefit from that therapy as they define it. So I think we know that it is possible to have some relief from some of the symptoms.” Her organization also called for supporters to “spread the word” about California’s ban, calling it “one of the most chilling suppressions of speech yet.” [Equality Matters, 10/3/12; Ruth Institute, accessed 10/2/17]

    NTFTE and Equality and Justice for All have advocated for conversion therapy and turning LGBTQ people straight. The National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) and Equality and Justice for All -- both of which employ “ex-gay” activist Christopher Doyle, who signed the two letters with ADF attacking the “hate group” designation on behalf of both groups -- have advocated for conversion therapy. Equality and Justice for All attempts to push the false narrative that LGBTQ people can change their sexual orientation and urges that “ex-gays must be included in the formation of public policy.” NTFTE filed a report in May to the Federal Trade Commission attacking human rights organizations for what NTFTE called a “hate campaign” to ban reparative therapy. In the report, NTFTE described its purpose as to “secure therapy equality for clients that experience distress over unwanted same-sex attractions and gender identity conflicts.” According to The Washington Post, the complaint accused human rights groups “of committing ‘mass fraud’ and ‘actively distorting the scientific research by promoting the ‘Born Gay’ hoax.’” From the Post’s May 2 report:

    On Tuesday, a group called the National Task Force for Therapy Equality announced it had filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against three groups that have lobbied for conversion therapy bans — including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

    The complaint accused the three groups of committing “mass fraud” and “actively distorting the scientific research by promoting the ‘Born Gay’ hoax,” among other allegations.

    “It’s shocking that these gay activists have actually been able to deceive six states and several cities with their pseudoscientific claims of ‘harm’ to ban psychotherapy,” Christopher Doyle, a co-coordinator for the task force, said in a statement. [Immigration Reform Law Institute, 6/21/17; Family Research Council, 9/6/17; Equality and Justice For All, accessed 9/13/17; National Task Force for Therapy Equality, 5/2/17; The Baltimore Sun, 5/11/14; The Washington Post, 5/2/17]

    The Illinois Family Institute campaigned against Illinois’ proposal to ban conversion therapy and said it “prohibits mental health professionals from helping minors.” Illinois Family Institute (IFI) campaigned in 2014 against legislation in Illinois attempting to ban conversion therapy, calling the legislation “destructive, unethical, and dishonest” and urging its supporters to “contact your state representative.” When the state passed similar legislation in 2015, IFI posted a statement condemning the ban and saying it “prohibits mental health professionals from helping minors who seek assistance in resisting unwanted, unchosen same-sex attraction.” [Illinois Family Institute, 3/23/14, 8/26/15]

    American Values President Gary Bauer said he is “immovable” on his position that “people can get out of the homosexual lifestyle.” In a 1998 speech to the Harvard Kennedy School, American Values President Gary Bauer -- then president of FRC -- responded to a question regarding FRC’s support for “ex-gay conversion therapy” by saying he was “immovable” on his support of the practice. Bauer promoted the idea of “ex-gay” people and touted his speech at an “ex-gay” convention, saying “there were hundreds of them now happily married, now with families of their own.” Bauer continued, “I can't think of a greater oppression than to try to force somebody to continue to live the way apparently you and some others here are living.” He also said that he would “encourage anybody I can to get out of what I think is a destructive lifestyle.” From the April 13, 1998, speech:

    STUDENT: I wanted to draw particular attention to the policies which the Family Research Council and other conservative groups are proponents of, which have to do with ex-gay conversion therapy. And I wanted to inform the audience that there’s a quote from the Family Research Council's web page that says --, I quote, “The Family Research Council applauds the efforts of men and women who provide counseling and support for people who wish to leave homosexuality and find fulfillment in a healthy lifestyle.”


    GARY BAUER: When you belittle the idea that people can get out of the homosexual lifestyle, your problem is those people exist. I spoke at their convention just a few weeks ago. There were hundreds of them, now happily married, now with families of their own. I mean, it seems to me that if you’re talking about oppression, I can't think of a greater oppression than to try to force somebody to continue to live the way apparently you and some others here are living. Again, if that’s your choice, you’ll bear the consequences of it, but how you can be against somebody else trying to get out of that way of life, if they choose to do so and find happiness some other way, is bizarre to me. I will encourage anybody I can to get out of what I think is a destructive lifestyle. And I don't believe a healthy society can endorse it, subsidize it, or encourage it. I am sorry if this disappoints you, but again, on this, I am immovable.

    STUDENT: I think that history will shame you, Mr. Bauer. [C-SPAN, 4/13/98]