GOP-backed congressional nominee promoted pamphlet that pushes harmful conversion therapy

Mark Harris-endorsed guide falsely claims that sexual orientation can sometimes be changed “as a result of therapeutic interventions”

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Mark Harris, a Republican-backed congressional nominee in North Carolina, previously endorsed a pamphlet claiming that sexual orientation can be forcibly changed, including through the debunked and harmful practice of conversion therapy.

Harris is the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s 9th District. The National Republican Congressional Committee selected Harris for its “Young Guns” program, which “identifies candidates across the country who embody the principles of the House Republican Conference and show promise of running a successful campaign.”

He has been heavily involved in fighting against LGBTQ equality in North Carolina, where he used to be the pastor of First Baptist Charlotte. While in that position, Harris appeared in anti-LGBTQ media outlets such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and American Family Association’s American Family Radio

He has also been a go-to pastor for the Family Research Council (FRC), an extreme anti-LGBTQ organization that produces its own media content and policy papers. Harris has spoken at numerous FRC events and has been a member of Watchmen on the Wall, FRC’s ministry program. FRC is one of the most influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ groups in the country; it claims that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural.”

Harris has been integral in promoting FRC’s Culture Impact Team program, which aims to get churches more involved with political matters such as registering voters and distributing policy information.

Harris appeared in a 2016 training video for the Culture Impact Team program in which he said he loved that FRC-produced documents “like the Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality” help “equip” Christians to have conversations with others. He later encouraged church leaders to put those types of material “in the hands of our people” so that “we're able to share the truth.”

MARK HARRIS: Today Christians are somehow stepping back from the water coolers where we work and those other places that I mentioned and there's a good reason why -- because our people no longer feel equipped and confident in what they're saying. You see, the Culture Impact Team serves a very important role in helping to equip our people, and we have a partner in the Family Research Council that produces documents.

In an earlier session you heard about all of the things that you could have in a Culture Impact Center. Well, what I love about that is the things that you're able to provide to your congregation will help them be equipped on the issues facing us. Documents like The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality; documents like Why Christians Should Seek To Influence Government For Good; documents like Modern Slavery: How To Fight Human Trafficking In Your Community; documents like Is Common Core Good For America's Students?; or The Bible's Teaching On Marriage And Family; The Best Pro-Life Arguments For Secular Audiences; and yes, The Top Ten Myths About Abortion.

You see, these documents, put in the hands of our people, give them the sense of confidence and the sense of boldness to have those conversations once again that they are backing away from having because they do not feel equipped. You see, I think our pastors need and would look to a Culture Impact Team to help them put this kind of material in the hands of our people. At First Baptist Charlotte, we have a Culture Impact Center where we're able to provide these as long -- as well as other documents alongside them, that we're able to share the truth in the real story. And by the way, I'll tell you one of the things I love about all of these documents -- the last several pages of every one of them are filled with endnotes and filled with footnotes which just remind me these documents aren't written by just some average political hack; these are documents that are written by some of the sharpest minds and greatest scholars in American politics as well as biblical worldviews that are guiding them in their thought.

Harris holding “The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality” pamphlet

“The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality” is a virulently anti-LGBTQ guide that was written by anti-LGBTQ commentator and FRC senior fellow for policy studies Peter Sprigg. The pamphlet promotes the lie that sexual orientation can sometimes be changed and that harmful conversion therapy is a solution. It falsely claims that “research confirms that such change does occur -- sometimes spontaneously, and sometimes as a result of therapeutic interventions” and “there is no scientific evidence that change efforts create greater harm than the homosexual lifestyle itself.”

From the pamphlet:

Myth No. 2: Sexual orientation can never change.

Fact: Thousands of men and women have testified to experiencing a change in their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Research confirms that such change does occur -- sometimes spontaneously, and sometimes as a result of therapeutic interventions.

Myth No. 3: Efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual are harmful and unethical.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence that change efforts create greater harm than the homosexual lifestyle itself. The real ethical violation is when clients are denied the opportunity to set their own goals for therapy.

The guide’s claims are lies. As Media Matters’ Brianna January has noted, conversion therapy “has been debunked and rejected by all major medical associations as ineffective, harmful, and unscientific.”

Reporters covering efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy should always include that the practice has been debunked and rejected by all major medical associations as ineffective, harmful, and unscientific and that sexuality and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed.

The American Psychiatric Association’s official 2000 position statement on conversion therapy reaffirmed its 1998 position that “there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation.” In addition, the organization wrote that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, that is based on the assumption … that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association released a 2009 resolution saying, “The APA concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.” A division of the American Counseling Association known as the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling also found that attempts “to alter or change gender identities and/or the sexual orientation of transgender clients across the lifespan may be detrimental, life-threatening, and are not empirically supported.” International organizations also recognize the junk science behind conversion therapy; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Therapies aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation have been deemed outside the scope of ethical practice.”

The anti-LGBTQ pamphlet also claims to debunk such facts as “Children raised by homosexuals are no different from children raised by heterosexuals, nor do they suffer harm” and “Homosexuals are no more likely to molest children than heterosexuals,” though both of those are accurate statements.

Media Matters previously reported that in 2015, Harris claimed that the country had descended into “moral decay” and cited as one of several examples that “we have watched in one generation where homosexuality was once criminalized to now we see the criminalization of Christianity.”