A clever new strategy is emerging in the fight to protect vulnerable queers from predatory practitioners of “ex-gay therapy.” While a small handful of states have banned “pray away the gay,” the National Center for Lesbian Rights just announced that they’re launching a lawsuit targeting “ex-gay” practitioners for fraud.
This is a huge deal — and if NCLR is successful, it could save countless lives.
Ex-Gay is a Sham
It’s well known beyond a shadow of a doubt that the practice, more officially known as “sexual orientation change efforts,” is at best ridiculous snake oil; at worst, it’s harmful abuse that can contribute to self-harm. Every single reputable medical organization in the country has condemned the practice; its only defenders are phony groups like “The American College of Pediatrics.”
Historically, “ex-gay” treatments have ranged from the hilarious to the horrifying. They include lobotomies, induced vomiting, and implanting monkey testicles. Practitioners make ludicrous claims like riding a bicycle can cure gayness; or that the smell of urine is effective treatment; or that gay men will become straight if they just cuddle each other more often.
In the case filed by NLCR, the details are quite troubling. A woman named Katherine McCobb went to a therapist for reasons unrelated to her sexual orientation, but the therapist, Lloyd Willey, started pressuring her to stop being a lesbian. He told her to dress differently, to lose weight, and even to start dating one of his male clients.
Over the course of several years, he took $70,000 from her.
Fortunately, California has robust consumer protection laws. NCLR is helping McCobb sue under the state’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition law. In other words, they’re accusing Willey of having taken money under false pretenses, offering services he couldn’t actually provide.
Strong Chance of Success
On its face, it seems like that should be an easy case to make. Of course, nobody can deliberately control their sexual orientation. And convincing a client that being gay or lesbian is unnatural flies in the face of established science.
Meanwhile, a few states have passed legislation to ban the practice of conversion therapy. Just last week, Rhode Island became the eleventh state with such a ban. But that’s been a slow, expensive process; many of the more fundamentalist states in the south have defended the abusive practice.
But if the lawsuit is successful, bans might no longer be necessary. It would send a message to unscrupulous authorities that they could be on the hook for making fraudulent claims. Suddenly, there would be consequences for telling patients that they can be “cured” of queerness.
Of course, this would impact vulnerable patients the most. Many of the victims of “ex-gay” treatment are kids, pressured to seek treatment by their parents. Currently, those young people can fall prey to predatory fraudsters in 39 states. But if NCLR wins this lawsuit, those predators may be too scared to strike again.
Featured image by KatarzynaBialasiewicz via iStock.