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Does the Ex-Gay Movement Equal Genocide?

Jim Burroway

May 7th, 2010

That’s the provocative question raised by a new paper by Sue E. Spivey and Christine M. Robinson in the April edition of the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention called “Genocidal Intentions: Social Death and the Ex-Gay Movement.” I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Robinson last fall at the Anti-Heterosexism Conference in West Palm Beach, where she gave a talk based on her then-forthcoming article. Let’s just say I was extremely skeptical of her premise that the ex-gay movement has within it several characteristics consistent with the U.N.’s four-part definition contained within the 1948 Untied Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, articles II(b)-(e), which includes definitions which are not limited to mass murder.

I heard her out, and came away with the understanding of where she is coming from. It’s not so much that the ex-gay movement wants to round us up and kill us (although some have been complicit in such proposals which have been denounced as genocidal), but when you get to the heart of what the ex-gay movement wants to do, they truly envision a world in which there are no gay people. I still contend that using the word “genocide” is a most unhelpful hyperbole, but I can’t deny that at the same time it presents an illuminating metaphor — as long as you keep a level head and remain cognizant of the many limitations of the connections. And I think we do have to recognize that some won’t do that. That said, I don’t think we should shy away from the comparisons either. Heading these comparisons will be very important, especially as the American ex-gay and anti-gay movements move to extend their reach overseas.

Ex-gay survivor, therapist and author Jallen Rix looked at Spivey & Robinson and was particularly impressed with two elements of the paper which dealt with two characteristics of genocide as defined by the UN’s 1948 Convention:

For example, here are just two points: (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Sound familiar?

…To further connect the dots, Spivey and Robinson have used the work of James Waller, who “synthesized a large body of social and psychological scholarship, organized as a general model, to explain how ordinary people commit extraordinary acts of brutality.” Some of the processes are “Us Verses Them Thinking,” “Moral Disengagement,” and “Blaming the Victim.” For example, “Ex-gay leaders socially distance themselves from their victims … they do this by defining homosexuality as behaviors, attractions, identities, or more insidiously, as a sinful ‘lifestyle,’ a mental illness, or a menacing social ‘agenda,’ thus denying the personhood, indeed the existence — and the victimization of gay and lesbian people.” As Joseph Nicolosi, one of the most outspoken reparative therapists (he coined the label), has said about a gay teen who had the courage to come out of the closet, “He is designed for a woman. … He is heterosexual but he may have a homosexual problem.” [Hyperlink added]

Rix is the author of the recently published Ex-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse. He was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist household and was sent off to ex-gay therapy at a young age. In the book, he describes the serious mental harm he experienced as a result, and compares what he observed in the ex-gay world with the phenomenon known as Religious Abuse. Much of his therapeutic work involves helping former ex-gay clients recover from their experiences in the ex-gay movement.



May 7th, 2010 | LINK

This framing is not helpful. I don’t care how the UN defines it; in everyone else’s mind, there’s no such thing as a genocide if no one is killed.

Timothy Kincaid
May 7th, 2010 | LINK

I’m not sure that I can buy into genocide. But it is in many ways comparable to other forms of attack on social identity through forced assimilation.

Priya Lynn
May 7th, 2010 | LINK

To me genocide is large scale murder although I suppose you could stretch the definition to include eliminating a group of people through other means.

May 7th, 2010 | LINK

Hmm.. how about a different term for it..

Cultural cleansing?

Rob Lll
May 7th, 2010 | LINK

I think “eliminationist” might be a little more accurate. The term doesn’t necessarily connote mass killing, but definitely conveys the mindset that a given group must be suppressed or excised from society at large.

Ed W
May 7th, 2010 | LINK

If future extremists ever do launch a government orchestrated killing program of gays, the ex-gay movement would be guilty of helping to lay the groundwork for the conditions under which such a horror could happen.

I once heard a rabbi say that there’s a small leap from “they can’t live among us” to “they can’t live”.

Thank you for a very thought provoking post.

Larry Esser
May 8th, 2010 | LINK

This idea is not so far off the mark as may seem at first. Anti-gay ministers and politicians rant against us, but what do they want us to do? To disappear. If you follow their reasoning, it can lead nowhere but genocide. That is what happened in Germany, didn’t it? Gay men were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. There has been testimony from concentration camp survivors that gay men were treated far more brutally than any other group imprisoned there.

Christine M. Robinso
May 8th, 2010 | LINK

Thank you, Jim, for mentioning the article. It was a great pleasure meeting you as well.

Just so your readers know, below is the legal definition of genocide, based on the original 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (from Article II of the UNCG):

“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Most people think that genocide only includes killing, but it does not does not. Even some genocide scholars suggest that the definition should be limited to literal killing to enhance the moral opprobrium attached to IIa (as compared to IIb-e).

May 10th, 2010 | LINK

To me, it is crucial to continue understanding and gathering evidence of harms caused by ex-gay groups.

The work by ex-gay survivors to name the harm from the inappropriate and ineffective mental health care they’ve received has been great.

Harm has also been done by denying and discouraging access to credible mental health care. Randy Thomas offered a rare exception to that recently by describing the therapy he’s gotten for PTSD, but in general the ex-gay movement doesn’t promote people being evaluated for or getting help with depression, bipolar, anxiety, etc.

The best indicator of this is the lack of attention given to suicide awareness and prevention. In fact, there have been reports of ex-gay leaders telling people in their care they’d be better off dead than openly gay.

It took forever for Exodus to put it’s foot down about never putting children and adults in the same support groups. The logical, necessary follow-on to that would be an unequivocal commitment to suicide prevention.

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