In 2013, Alan Chambers, who headed the largest conversion therapy organization in the world at the time, Exodus International, publicly apologized to the LGBTQ+ community for the “pain and hurt” Exodus had caused and announced that the ministry was permanently shutting down. The following year, in 2014, more groups shut their doors, including Love in Action, Evergreen International, and Australia’s Living Waters, and Love Won Out. A popular and devastating 2021 Netflix documentary, “Pray Away,” featured former leaders of Exodus International discussing the harm they had inflicted.
The practice has been condemned by dozens of medical and psychological professional organizations in several countries, banned in seven countries, and outlawed in cities and states in several countries. Ample research has shown these practices are extremely harmful and that “LGB people who experienced conversion therapy were almost twice as likely to think about suicide and to attempt suicide compared to their peers who hadn’t experienced conversion therapy.” The Independent Forensics Expert Group (IFEG), which was established by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCTL) in partnership with Copenhagen University’s Department of Forensic Medicine, determined in 2020 that there is a “lack of medical and scientific validity of conversion therapy” and significant harms as a result of the practice. IFEG also declared that offering “conversion therapy” is a form of deception, false advertising and fraud.
A New Jersey court case determined that a particular conversion therapy provider had engaged in consumer fraud and was ordered permanently closed. Additionally, the UN’s Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, has described the practice as an “egregious violation of rights” and called for a worldwide ban. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, has said that a ban on the practice would not violate freedom of religion or belief under international law, because of the harm involved in conversion therapy. He told British MPs considering such a ban in 2021, “International human rights law is clear that the right to freedom of religion or belief does not limit the state’s obligation to protect the life, dignity, health and equality of LGBT+ persons.” He added, “Banning such discredited, ineffective, and unsafe practices that misguidedly try to change or suppress people’s sexual orientation and gender is not a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief under international law.”
And yet the providers and supporters go on, practicing their damaging techniques and promoting the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed; that being LGBTQ+ is a disorder, illness, or sin that requires treatment or cure; and that cisgender heterosexuality is inherently normal and preferred. Tragically, ongoing reporting indicates that forms of violent torture continue to surface in attempts to change the sexuality of LGBTQ+ people in various parts of the world.
Worryingly, the people and groups operating in this space continue to have access to power. The far-right Catholic movement-led “Rydzyk empire,” a Polish media conglomerate headed by Fr. Tadeusz Rydzyk whose radio station Radio Maryja and TV station TV TRWAM are frequented by far-right-wing politicians in that country, has advocated for conversion therapy as well as Holocaust denial, which has led the Anti-Defamation League to consider Radio Maryja “anti-Semitic.” In November 2021, UK government officials from the Equalities Office met in secret with conversion therapy providers, including the Northern Irish Core Issues Trust.
A representative from Core Issues Trust said it was the first time any government had “taken the time to speak to former-LGBT people.” The International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice, which backs the use of conversion therapy, invited UK Members of Parliament to its all-day conference in November 2021. Panel discussions had names like “Is the Government’s Conversion Therapy Ban Feasible” and “Sexuality in Crisis, Where is the Science?” And this while the UK is considering banning the practice. Also, the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), a small European-wide political party, used its EU funding “to organise a ‘gay conversion therapy’ session in Bratislava, Slovakia, in May 2019 under the name ‘reintegrative therapy.’” In the U.S., the Christian right heavyweights Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council have all advocated against bans on conversion therapy under the guise of protecting “religious freedom.” These organizations are central to the conservative movement in the U.S. and have close ties to powerful political figures, including former Vice President Mike Pence.
Unfortunately, in the years since Exodus International shut its doors, and Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), was shuttered by a New Jersey court for “consumer fraud,” a new crop of organizations has moved into this space, rebranding themselves as friends of the LGBTQ+ community and featuring younger, hipper, more diverse faces. Many of these organizations claim they are victimized by modern society and therefore co-opt the language of the LGBTQ+ rights movement to assert liberation for what they call the X-LGBT community.
This rebranding and co-opting are often referred to as “rainbow-washing.” And it does have one new element, targeting the transgender community for conversion to cisgender identities, which dovetails with the broader social conservative movement’s efforts to restrict transgender individual’s rights. These practices, too, like those of conversion therapy, have been found by a 2019 study in JAMA Psychiatry to increase the odds of attempting suicide.
These new rainbow-washed groups continue to work alongside organizations more akin to the former Exodus International, which are mainly religious-based organizations connected to the evangelical movement, as well as a longstanding Catholic network sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church. In recent years, proposed bans on conversion therapy have motivated providers to organize and up their legislative and litigation games. Their activities are bolstered and promoted by powerful social conservative organizations and relatively new X-LGBT groups, such as the Changed Movement, in various countries.
As OutRight Action International has rightly said, more research is needed on the prevalence of conversion therapists around the world and about the practice in general. This report documents the entities that most often surfaced during Global Project Against Hate and Extremism’s (GPAHE) research into conversion therapy’s presence online. GPAHE researchers conducted thorough examinations in six countries of online content about conversion therapy efforts that appear on various platforms and in multiple languages. It includes all social media and websites for each of the organizations profiled. The research was conducted in English and Spanish in the U.S., English in Ireland and Australia, German in Germany, Spanish in Colombia, and English and Swahili in Kenya.
The conversion therapy organizations profiled in this report do not represent anything close to the number of providers worldwide, many of which do not have a web presence at all, or those that may exist online in languages that were not employed for this research.
Profiles of Conversion Therapy Providers and Proponents:
These profiles cover the entities and networks that most often surfaced during GPAHE’s online research on conversion therapy. The institutions profiled here do represent what individuals who are researching conversion therapy online in English, German, Spanish, and Swahili are most likely to find. These organizations are interconnected with each other and are essentially composed of three major networks. The first is organized around the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity and Joseph Nicolosi, Sr. This network is largely made up of American practitioners, though they practice their “therapy” in other countries and network abroad. The second network is primarily European and centered around the Northern Irish organization, Core Issues Trust, which has several partners in the UK and throughout Europe. The third network is connected to Exodus Global Alliance, which has allies around the world and offices in the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil.
Groups in bold are profiled in this report.