Joseph Nicolosi, advocate and practitioner of "reparative" therapy that seeks to "change" gay, lesbian, and bisexual people's sexual orientation to "heterosexual" and to prevent trans people from affirming their gender identity, died last week.
Nicolosi founded the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization that grew widely discredited over the years for the promotion of, as Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) documented, junk science. Still, he billed himself as the "foremost expert" on this form of "therapy."
If there is a way to quantitatively measure Nicolosi's responsibility for the culture of stigmatization and harm to individual LGBT lives, I don't know of it. And yet, his responsibility seems, in my opinion, undeniable.
I came of age as a lesbian in the 1990s and early aughts when Nicolosi published most of his works. Nicolosi had influenced, and/or collaborated with, notorious leaders of SPLC-identified anti-LGBT hate groups, including historical revisionist Scott Lively, who argued that gay men were responsible for the Holocaust. NARTH regularly submtted amicus briefs in court cases opposing gay rights, arguing that sexual orientation could be changed.
Even in the late aughts, nearly every anti-LGBT person I encountered at various anti-LGBT blogs and forums relied to varying degrees on NARTH and Nicolosi's work. I regularly engaged with anti-gay people who believed I was intrinsically mentally ill for being gay and, if they were Christian, also believed I was innately sinful (yeah yeah, "everybody is," blah blah).
Mainstream health organizations have now widely critiqued "reparative" and "conversion" therapies. And, back in 2009, I wrote about the American Psychological Association's review of the scientific literature examining "reparative" therapy. which summarized that: "efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm." This harm includes loss of sexual feeling, depression, suicidality, and anxiety.
Now, six states and fourteen cities ban "reparative" or "conversion" therapy for minors.
I have nothing kind to say about Joseph Nicolosi. To my knowledge, he died without ever having apologized to the LGBT community.
Instead, I will use his death as an opportunity to suggest that we should not become complacent with the progress we gained on LGBT issues during the Obama years.
- Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has been described as a conservative in the mold of Antonin Scalia, who deeply opposed LGBT rights;
- Trump has already reversed guidelines stating that public school should allow transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity;
- The Republican Party platform includes a dog whistle inclusion of support for "reparative therapy," which Mike Pence, an anti-LGBT conservative Christian, has also signaled dog whistle support for.