My parents learned I was gay when I was 18. My father punched me and pushed me to the floor while telling me I was no longer his son. My mother slapped me and demanded I tell her why I had done this to her. Crying, bleeding and as scared as I had ever been in my life, I begged them to forgive me and asked them to give me an opportunity to change.
The next day, my father told me that he had talked to our pastor at church and the pastor had recommended we see a “Christian therapist” known for curing children who had “homosexual tendencies.” Desperate and hoping to regain my parents’ love, I agreed to go see this so-called conversion therapy specialist.
Desperate and hoping to regain my parents’ love, I agreed to go see this so-called conversion therapy specialist.
There is a growing push from U.S. state legislatures to ban conversion therapy due to its risks. These risks are by now well known, and yet around the world the practice persists. Just like in the United States, in Ecuador — where I was born and raised — conversion therapy is, painfully, still practiced. There are hundreds of illegal conversion therapy clinics in Ecuador where teenagers and young adults are “treated” for their sexual orientation. Some of the clinics are inpatient and others provide outpatient “services.” Many do not require consent from the subject and instead allow parents and other concerned individuals to commit people to these clinics against their will. In my case, I went to this clinic voluntarily because I wanted to make my parents happy.
When I walked into the clinic for the first time, all I wanted was to take a pill that would cure me of being gay. During my first day, I met alone with the evangelical conversion therapy specialist that our pastor had recommended. After a short session at which the doctor asked me about my gay tendencies and my willingness to be “cured,” he told my parents that it was not necessary for me to be committed to the clinic’s inpatient services. According to him, I did not have a “serious case of homosexuality.” In fact, he told my parents, I did not even have a “gay appearance.”
The next few months of bi-weekly, 4-hour sessions at the clinic were excruciating. There were days when the doctor interrogated me. He was trying to get me to confess to being raped as a child. That never happened to me, but he was convinced that being gay was the product of childhood sexual assault. He also convinced my mother of his theory, so my mother started also questioning me at home. She was convinced that my uncle had raped me, because he was the most flamboyant of my father’s siblings.
Other days at the clinic, the doctor would sit right next to me and would make me watch straight porn. He would ask me to describe the body parts of the women that aroused me and forced me to tell him what I wanted to do with them. After those sessions, I would come home and cry myself to sleep — after praying for God to change me.
The doctor also made my parents and sister attend some of the sessions as well. My 16-year-old sister was often interrogated on whether I had ever sexually assaulted her, because according to the doctor, gay people were more likely to be sexual predators. (They aren’t.)
My 16-year-old sister was often interrogated on whether I had ever sexually assaulted her, because according to the doctor, gay people were more likely to be sexual predators. (They aren’t.)
The doctor eventually told me that at the end of my curing process, I was going to have the “opportunity” to have sex with a sex worker. According to him, after this experience I was never going to think about being gay again.
Instead, the idea horrified me. I went home to beg my parents to take me out of the clinic. My parents did not listen and told me I needed to complete the program. If I did not, I would be proving that their love, and all the money they had spent on curing me, was meaningless.
Desperate to find way to avoid this so-called graduation ceremony, I was able to convince one of my female friends to date me. Eventually, I took her to meet the doctor, where she was interrogated about our sexual life and my sexual performance. A couple of days after the doctor met my girlfriend, he called my parents and declared: “Luis is cured!"
Years passed, and my parents realized I was not in fact “cured.” I was forced to leave Ecuador and sought asylum based partially on the cruelty and homophobia of my upbringing.
I have lived in the United States for 11 years now, but there is not a day when I don’t think about my time at the clinic. Sometimes it comes up when I’m putting on clothes and I wonder if I’m not masculine enough. Other times, the doubts and anxiety resurface when I’m with my husband. Even so, little by little I have been able to almost fully overcome the harm that conversion therapy did to my life.
I do not wish for anybody to go through the same horrific experiences I had, and that’s why it shocks me to know that conversion therapy is still legal in the majority of the United States, let alone the world. Only 18 states and D.C. have banned it, which means that an unknown number of children continue to go through this incredible harm practiced by professionals accredited and licensed by the majority of states in this country.
This summer, one of the most prominent spokespeople for conversion therapy, McKrae Game, came out as gay and denounced the practice as a “lie” and “harmful.” The truth is that as a country we are not able to fully prevent parents and families from harming their LGBTQ children, but what we can do is make sure that licensed professionals are not allowed to engage in this violent, traumatizing practice.
The recent revelation from Game is just another reason to keep the pressure on our elected officials in demanding an end to this practice.
A couple of years ago, I finally stopped praying to God to change me. I am now incredibly proud of being a gay man, but LGBTQ teens should not have their journey to self-acceptance forced through a crucible of often state-sanctioned violence.