The “ex-gay” conversion therapy movement has found a home on TikTok, despite the platform’s promised ban
TikTok committed to removing content promoting conversion therapy in October 2020
Update (8/27/21): Following this report, TikTok has banned the search terms “ex gay” and “exgay,” adding a disclaimer that the phrase is associated with "hateful behavior."
Although TikTok announced it was banning “content that promotes conversion therapy and the idea that no one is born LGBTQ+” and has been publicly celebrating Pride Month, the platform appears to still house content promoting conversion therapy tactics. In particular, TikTok is hosting videos featuring people who are a part of the “ex-gay” movement and claim to have been “set free” from being LGBTQ. These videos have consistently earned hundreds of thousands of views.
This inconsistency is yet another example of TikTok loudly updating its community guidelines to garner positive press without actually enforcing the new rules, and thus leaving vulnerable users without the protection they were promised.
Conversion therapy is a harmful and discredited practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. GLAAD has described the work of conversion therapy proponents, including those in the “ex-gay” movement, as follows:
Anti-LGBTQ activists have argued for years that sexual orientation is a choice and changeable – but only for people attracted to the same sex, not heterosexuals. They often claim "homosexuality" is not real, but rather a form of mental illness or an emotional disorder that can be "cured" through psychological or religious intervention. Anti-LGBTQ activists claim that being attracted to the same sex is a curable condition, and therefore people attracted to the same sex do not need or deserve equal treatment under the law or protection from discrimination.
In October, in an effort to counter hate on its platform, TikTok explicitly banned content “that is hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community,” specifically including “content that promotes conversion therapy and the idea that no one is born LGBTQ.” The “ex-gay” movement relies on the harmful idea that LGBTQ identity is not innate and can thus be changed, and by TikTok’s own standards, related content should be prohibited from the platform.
Nevertheless, TikTok continues to house and circulate “ex-gay” conversion therapy content, including videos in which creators claim to have been “set free” from a “homosexual lifestyle” and encourage their followers to do the same. Several earned upwards of 250,000 views, and one earned nearly one million.
TikTok’s failure to protect its LGBTQ users comes as some state legislatures -- feuled by right-wing media -- are targeting queer youth for simply being themselves, including via measures that prevent trans youth from accessing best practice medical care. A 2020 FBI report found an increase in hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people from 2018 to 2019, and The Trevor Project noted in its 2021 report that 42 percent of LGBTQ youth “seriously considered” suicide in the past year. TikTok’s unwillingness to protect its (often young) LGBTQ users has the potential to cause emotional and physical harm.
Here are some examples of “ex-gay” content still available on TikTok:
- One creator wrote in overlaid text, “After 33 years in the homosexual lifestyle. Jesus set me free.”
- “I used to be so confused, and Jesus showed me the Truth,” wrote another.
- In a separate video, the same creator offered “just three simple tips” in response to a user who asked, “How’d you get away from the lifestyle cause I’m struggling with it.” The creator also said, “I’m an ex-gay and have been away from the homosexual lifestyle for about four years now.”
- A different creator wrote in overlaid text, “‘How did you become straight?’ Let me tell you.. again. Jesus.”
- “I just see homosexuality and the participation in the act itself, it just goes against God’s divine nature and order for why he created us. … My identity is with him and I will give up anything for him,” said another creator in a video.
- A different creator said, “I’ve realized God never made me for a man. Like, God made me for a woman. … There’s this need or desire in my heart that I thought I could fulfill through guys, but no, it’s Jesus.”
- “Watch me be bisexual to being fully gay and then being set free by Jesus Christ,” wrote a separate creator in overlaid text.
- Another wrote in overlaid text, “Me thinking of becoming trans bc I was gay. *Finds Jesus, gets saved & born again & whole life changes.*(loses attraction to women, multiple addictions end, no longer wants to be trans.”
- A different creator wrote in overlaid text, “Devil telling me I’ll return back to a gay lifestyle. I had the Spirit modification, not behavior modification.”
- “We are not born gay. The devil lies,” wrote one creator in overlaid text.
- A different creator tagged #exgay and wrote, “I am now a child of God. Have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ!”