“I met around 50 people… 27 killed themselves… Jamie, the only 13 year old I met during my time there killed himself during my second week. He was the first I saw die… After him, they all kind of blended together. Every week… I would wonder who would be there and who would be dead… They [the camp ‘counselors’] even encouraged suicide because ‘at least we wouldn’t be gay anymore…”

“Their goal was to get us to hate ourselves for being LGBTQ.”

@TeenageCloseted, who wishes to remain anonymous, was 15 when he was sent to that camp. He spent 6 months, trapped, even attempting suicide as an escape. He eventually pretended to be straight and happy to have converted to heterosexuality.

TC’s parents aren’t alone in sending their child to a conversion camp for gay “therapy.”

Conversion therapy is “Psychiatric therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation, based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder requiring therapy (a position condemned by the The American Psychiatric Association as unethical).” Psychiatrists agree that this treatment is immoral and causes serious mental harm.

Whether TC and the other teenager’s parents knew about the environment they were sending their kids to is unclear, but, either way, attempting to beat a child into heterosexuality, or sending them to a camp that will do that for you, is child abuse, and should be made illegal everywhere.

The past several years have been key to the progression of the LGBT+ rights movement, with the national legalization of gay marriage. However, our current situation provides an environment that is far from perfect for LGBT+ persons, especially for youth. Since 2013, eight states and one territory have banned conversion therapy for minors: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

Green- states with laws prohibiting conversion therapy for youth

This is progress, but in 42 states, forcing a child through a painful and mentally scarring procedure is still legal. According to a report by the Movement Advancement Project, “73% of the LGBT population lives in states with no laws banning conversion therapy for minors.” 

Imagine you’re walking down the street and through a large, kitchen window you see a parent disciplining their child. The parent grabs the child’s hand and slams it on a burning stove. What would you do? Would you call the police? Would you protect the child from the abuse? That exact same scenario happens in conversion camps, it becomes aversion therapy. It gets worse than that. Aversion therapy is “a type of behavioral therapy that involves repeating pairing of an unwanted behavior with discomfort.”

Methods commonly used in conversion camps include electroshock, a chemical stimulus, and the placement of ice blocks or heated metal on the victim’s skin.

Samuel Brinton, a survivor put into a camp at age 12 reported that “Physical therapy was my hands being tied down and blocks of ice being placed on my hand..” and also “…consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I’d be electrocuted.” The goal of this torture was to connect homosexuality with pain in Brinton’s mind, but the process leaves an incredible mental mark. Some victims become afraid of human contact, shirking away from touch. Many develop PTSD, and most require extensive therapy afterward.

If the physical torture of children and teenagers does not immediately turn you into an ally, then perhaps their deaths will. While the torture does not directly kill the patients, LGBT teens who have been subjected to conversion therapy commit suicide at incredibly high rates.

According to “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation” by the American Psychological Association, “Studies from both periods [of time] indicate that attempts to change sexual orientation may cause or exacerbate distress and poor mental health in some individuals, including depression and suicidal thoughts.”

The patients in those studies were adult and not subjected to physical torture. Usually, a child’s stay at camp is focused more on attacks on their mental well-being. This may do even more harm than physical pain. In a survey of over 400 ex-patients done by Beyond Ex-Gay, 305 said they still felt emotional harm stemming from their experiences. Individual survivors reported being “…told to view homosexuality as being akin to alcoholism.” and that, “Self-hatred, isolation, depression, and flashbacks continue to be mental health issues.”

The mental problems caused by conversion therapy are so severe that suicides occur regularly.

Mathew Shurka, who underwent conversion therapy for 5 years, did an interview with the Huffington Post: “The amount of suicides and people who are harmed every day, it’s like every week there’s another story of someone in conversion therapy who takes their own life.”

These camps kill children and teens across the U.S., and, though it may be indirect, it makes them a danger to the children and teens they claim to help.

 If you google conversion therapy, you will undoubtedly come across ads claiming success in these camps. Often, a study done by psychiatrist Robert Spitzer in 2003 will be cited. The study suggested that some individuals could change their sexuality. The study was flawed, however, as it relied on interviews instead of medical proof. Later, Spitzer himself came to agree that the study meant nothing, writing in 2012, “…the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid..” and “… believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy.” Psychologists agree with Spitzer. Homosexuality is not a disease and cannot, nor does it need be, cured.  

How many stories do we need to hear before we condemn this practice as a nation? How many suicides before we agree that we cannot morally allow aversion therapy this severe to be used on our children. How many lives must be ruined? How many teenagers with PTSD does it take before we federally outlaw a “cure” for something that is not even an illness? As Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” What does it say about our society that we let this happen legally? A gay child is still a child, and no one, especially someone so young, should ever be subjected to the horrors of a conversion camp.