These are the national anti-LGBTQ groups fighting California's conversion therapy fraud bill

These are the national anti-LGBTQ groups fighting California's conversion therapy fraud bill 

Hate group Alliance Defending Freedom has publicly spoken out against a California bill that would classify the dangerous and harmful practice of conversion therapy as fraud

››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

Major anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom has joined an effort that includes several other major national hate groups to try to stop a bill in California that would classify conversion therapy as fraud. The term “conversion therapy” covers a range of discredited practices that attempt to change sexual orientation or gender identity and that have severe mental and medical health consequences. The organizations fighting the California bill -- which include hate groups the Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, the American College of Pediatricians, and the Pacific Justice Institute, as well as two pro-conversion-therapy groups -- have a demonstrated history of supporting the dangerous practice.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

California is considering a bill that would classify conversion therapy as fraud

The California Assembly is considering a bill that would classify conversion therapy as fraud. A California lawmaker introduced a bill that would classify conversion therapy as a fraudulent practice. The Eureka Times Standard reported that the bill’s text notes some of the health risks of the practice, including “confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, [and] substance abuse.” California passed legislation protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy in 2012. [Eureka Times Standard, 3/16/18]

Conversion therapy is a discredited practice with myriad harmful and “life-threatening” side effects, including depression. 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,” according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The organization says every mainstream major medical and mental health association has rejected the practice as ineffective, harmful, and unscientific. The American Psychiatric Association opposes the practice, saying that “there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation” and citing risks including “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association has said, “There is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.” A division of the American Counseling Association 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.” [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 3/7/18; American Psychiatric Association, May 2000; American Psychological Association, 8/5/09; Lambda Legal, January 2011]

Major national anti-LGBTQ groups are arguing against the bill and have historically supported conversion therapy

Major national anti-LGBTQ hate groups like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have historically supported conversion therapy and worked to keep the dangerous practice alive, though ADF itself has been relatively quiet about the issue over the last few years. Now, ADF and its allies are getting publicly involved in fighting against California’s newly proposed bill. Here are the major national anti-LGBTQ hate groups and pro-conversion-therapy groups fighting for conversion therapy in California:

Alliance Defending Freedom

Family Research Council

Liberty Counsel 

American College of Pediatricians 

Pacific Justice Institute 

National Task Force for Therapy Equality 

Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity 

Alliance Defending Freedom

ADF’s Matt Sharp appeared in print and local broadcast media to argue against California’s bill. Baptist Press quoted ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp and wrote that ADF says the bill threatens freedom of speech and religion. Sharp also appeared on ABC 7 News in San Francisco, where he claimed that “you can’t even discuss this idea of sexual orientation, gender identity unless it’s the view we want you to discuss. You can’t question it. You can’t explore whether there’s other options … unless it’s the government’s approval on it.” ADF also published a legal memorandum on California’s bill, arguing that it’s “likely unconstitutional” and claiming that “the breadth of this censorship is staggering.” [Baptist Press, 3/19/18; ABC 7 News, 3/14/18; Alliance Defending Freedom, 3/8/18]

In 2014, ADF defended prominent “ex-gay” conversion therapy activist Christopher Doyle in court. In 2014, The Baltimore Sun reported that ADF represented therapist and so-called “ex-gay” proponent 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). In 2014, 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 [conversion] therapy to minors.” [The Baltimore Sun, 5/11/14; Family Research Council, 9/6/17]

One of ADF’s “heavy hitter” allied attorneys fought New Jersey’s bill protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy in 2014. ADF-allied attorney Demetrios Stratis represented two plaintiffs in New Jersey in 2014 who were challenging the state’s law protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion 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 state’s conversion therapy law “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 called Stratis “one of the ‘heavy hitters’ among the allied attorneys of Alliance Defending Freedom” and praised him for “coming to bat in the crucial innings of some of the ministry’s most important cases.” [ThinkProgress, 7/31/14; Alliance Defending Freedom, accessed 3/26/18]

ADF is the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ hate group in the country and is working to combat LGBTQ equality at almost every level. ADF is an influential anti-LGBTQ hate group that is fighting LGBTQ equality on many fronts, including leading the fight against transgender student equality, working to codify discrimination against the LGBTQ community via religious exemptions, and exporting its anti-LGBTQ agenda abroad. ADF is well-known for representing plaintiff Jack Phillips, a Christian baker, in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case, in which a gay couple sued Phillips after he refused to bake a cake for their wedding. The case could have major implications in terms of whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people using religious exemptions. ADF and its allied attorneys have also relentlessly worked to prevent transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity, distributing its suggested anti-LGBTQ bathroom policy to schools across the country and filing lawsuits and briefs on behalf of schools with discriminatory policies and against schools that have implemented trans-inclusive policies. Anti-trans bathroom legislation proposed in at least eight states in 2017 resembled ADF’s policy or were written by ADF. In addition, ADF has filed lawsuits and worked with government officials like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for other discriminatory religious exemptions, including advising Sessions on his October Justice Department guidance, writing and defending Mississippi’s sweeping anti-LGBTQ law, and representing a client in Michigan who fired an employee for coming out as transgender. The organization has supported legislative efforts to prevent transgender service members from receiving medically necessary health care and also works with more than a dozen anti-LGBTQ groups and hate groups. [Media Matters, 11/27/17, 12/4/17]

Family Research Council

FRC’s Peter Sprigg suggested that California’s bill is a form of “torture.” Peter Sprigg, senior fellow at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC), spoke out against California’s bill in one of the group’s “Washington Update” posts, saying, “Some extremists like to call this kind of therapy ‘torture.’ But the real torture is telling people who want help they can’t have it.” He also claimed that the bill would violate “the freedom of speech for the therapist and counselor; and the religious liberty of all involved” and cited ADF’s Sharp's arguments against the bill. In addition, FRC’s Travis Weber wrote that the bill represents “blatant and open discrimination against one side of our society’s debate on sexual ethics.” [Family Research Council, 3/21/18, 3/23/18

FRC has historically and repeatedly endorsed conversion therapy and attacked medical groups as biased for their condemnation of the practice. For years, FRC’s Sprigg has written posts in support of conversion therapy on FRC’s website, including a Q&A discussion about conversion therapy that pushes myths about it and about LGBTQ people, including saying that the practice is effective and that there is no evidence that it is harmful. Another post by Sprigg says that “gay-conversion therapy … has been hugely successful at steering young people toward their natural expression of sexuality,” and he has even accused medical groups that condemn the practice, such as the American Psychological Association, of not being “immune to political and ideological bias, particularly on the issue of homosexuality.” In addition, Sprigg has praised conversion therapy practitioners and recommended 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 3/28/18, 9/13/17, 8/27/14, 3/10/17]

Liberty Counsel

Liberty Counsel called California’s bill “dangerous” and “harmful.” Anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel posted a press release opposing California’s new conversion therapy bill, comparing it to censorship. The group falsely claimed that the bill would “cause harm,” “lacks scientific justification,” and would prevent “victims of sexual abuse” from receiving “counseling if they develop (as often happens) unwanted urges to engage in same-sex behavior or become gender confused.” Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver added, “California AB 2943 is a very dangerous bill that will do a lot of damage to people seeking help with unwanted same-sex attractions or gender confusion. People have the right to seek the counsel of their choice, but this bill substitutes the government for personal choice. The implications are staggering, and the result is harmful.” [Liberty Counsel, 3/23/18]

Liberty Counsel filed a brief to the Supreme Court in favor of conversion therapy in 2014 and once launched a “Change is Possible” campaign to include “the ex-gay viewpoint.” In 2014, Staver said he submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court and testified before Congress against laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. Staver referred to the laws as “attacks on religious freedom of licensed mental health professionals, minors, and their parents.” Liberty Counsel also represented parents, children, counselors who practice reparative therapy, pro-conversion-therapy organization the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), and another organization in federal court in a challenge to a California law protecting LGBTQ youth from 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” from Voice of the Voiceless and Equality and Justice for All (two “ex-gay” organizations) for his group’s promotion of conversion therapy and frequent lawsuits against laws that prohibit it. And in 2017, when the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners in Florida failed to pass efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, 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.” Also in Florida, the group filed a lawsuit against Tampa’s policy protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy and threatened to sue in Palm Beach County if it adopted similar measures. [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 3/28/18; Liberty Counsel, 11/19/12, 12/4/06, 10/3/17; Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 3/26/18; Miami Herald, 10/3/17; Sun Sentinel, 12/19/17]

American College of Pediatricians

ACPeds’ Andre Van Mol wrote that the California bill is harmful, could lead to increased suicides, and falsely claimed that conversion therapy does not harm people. The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a small anti-LGBTQ hate group with membership estimated to be “between 60 and 200 pediatricians” whose name makes it easily mistaken for the legitimate medical organization the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a group composed of 64,000 physicians. Andre Van Mol, co-chair of ACPeds’ Committee on Adolescent Sexuality, published a blog post on California’s bill in which he framed efforts to protect LGBTQ people from the practice as dangerous, claiming that the bill could “cause some children and adults to commit suicide by forbidding therapy for underlying issues.” He also falsely claimed that “there is no evidence of harm from sexual orientation change therapy provided by licensed professionals.” In addition, Van Mol repeatedly cited the work of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, who was the “originator” of so-called “reparative therapy” and co-founder of pro-conversion-therapy group NARTH. [Snopes, 5/20/16; Christian Medical and Dental Associations Blog, 3/20/18; Public Discourse, 1/24/18; Joseph Nicolosi, accessed 3/27/18]

ACPeds has historically supported conversion therapy and has falsely claimed that it is no “more or less harmful than the use of psychotherapy to treat any other unwanted psychological or behavioral adaptation.” ACPeds published a January 2016 review on its website falsely claiming 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 also pushed the myth that conversion 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.” [American College of Pediatricians, January 2016; Psychology Today, 5/8/17]

Pacific Justice Institute

PJI sent a letter to California lawmakers in opposition to the state’s new conversion therapy bill. On March 23, anti-LGBTQ hate group Pacific Justice Institute’s (PJI) Center for Public Policy sent a letter to California lawmakers opposing the state’s bill. The letter argued that the American Psychological Association’s opposition to conversion therapy is because its authors “simply disagree with the notion that a person of faith should choose values over sexual yearnings” and that “the language used in this Bill casts a wide net calculated to entangle religious institutions and ministers.” In addition, PJI President Brad Dacus commented in a related press release, “Compassion demands that churches and ministries offer hope to those who want to voluntarily leave the LGBT subculture. The State cannot outlaw this compassion by calling it fraud. This is a diabolical attempt to stifle real debate and limit personal choices.” [Pacific Justice Institute, 3/29/18]

In 2012, PJI filed a lawsuit against California’s law protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and it has touted a wildly false statistic about the practice’s success rate. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, PJI filed a lawsuit against a 2012 California law preventing “licensed mental health professionals in California from practicing therapies that seek to make gay and lesbian youths straight.” PJI's 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. It threatens to have the child removed from families that do not affirm the homosexual conduct of their children. And then it also violates 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 law 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 also 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]

National Task Force for Therapy Equality

NTFTE and its chairwoman pushed bogus claims about conversion therapy. Pro-conversion therapy group the National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) released a so-called “fact sheet” urging opposition to California’s bill. The document criticized efforts to affirm transgender minors’ identities through successful medical treatments such as puberty blockers, hormones, and gender affirmation surgery and advocated for “talk therapy to help them embrace their body.” It also falsely claimed that “same-sex attraction and gender variant feelings … carry a high probability to decrease or change if allowed to” and that conversion therapy, “when done right, is safe and effective and decreases shame.” [National Task Force for Therapy Equality, 3/6/18]

NTFTE is a group dedicated to advocating for conversion therapy and for turning LGBTQ people straight. NTFTE, which was co-founded by major so-called “ex-gay” proponent Christopher Doyle, is dedicated to advocating for conversion therapy. Doyle and the group have been active in arguing against 2018 bills protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, signing onto a "Dear Legislator 2018" letter and appearing in local news coverage to argue against protections. In May 2017, NTFTE filed a report to the Federal Trade Commission attacking human rights organizations for what it called a “hate campaign” to prohibit the practice. 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.’” [National Task Force for Therapy Equality, accessed 3/28/18; Media Matters, 3/9/18; National Task Force for Therapy Equality, 5/2/17The Washington Post, 5/2/17]

Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity

ATCSI presented the California legislature with false claims about conversion therapy. The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (ATCSI) is a pro-conversion therapy group that describes itself as “a multi-disciplinary professional and scientific organization dedicated to … ensuring that competent licensed, professional assistance is available for persons who experience unwanted homosexual attractions.” According to the anti-LGBTQ group California Family Council, Christopher Rosik, who works with ATCSI, “presented California legislative offices with a journal article he authored rebutting critics who use ‘incomplete and dishonest presentation of the scientific record’ to discredit” conversion therapy. [Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, accessed 4/2/18; California Family Council, 3/14/18]

ATCSI is a group devoted to providing “professional assistance … for persons who experience unwanted homosexual attractions.” Major pro-conversion therapy group NARTH was “folded into” ATCSI in 2014, according to ThinkProgress. ATCSI’s website says sexual orientation can be changed and that “many individuals have reported therapy-assisted change in their sexuality.” Therapists associated with NARTH have appeared in local broadcast news across the country this year advocating against policies that would protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. In 2013, NARTH helped produce a half-hour documentary featuring so-called “ex-gays” and pushing myths “including that homosexuality is caused by sexual abuse, absent fathers, and overbearing mothers,” according to Right Wing Watch. [Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, accessed 3/27/18, 4/2/18; ThinkProgress 8/7/14; Media Matters, 3/9/18; Right Wing Watch, 12/12/13]

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