South Africa Teen’s Death Shows It’s Time to Ban Ex-gay Therapy Everywhere

Guest commentary

Jim Burroway

June 13th, 2013

The following guest commentary was submitted by Glen Retief, author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African ChildhoodHe teaches creative nonfiction at Susquehanna University. His husband, Peterson Toscano, is co-founder of the ex-gay survivor forum, Beyond Ex-Gay

The New Jersey and New York legislatures consider bills banning ex-gay therapy for minors.  Federal courts review California’s law protecting youth against homophobic pseudo-medicine.  And now a new exgay survivor survey details the harm sustained by LGBT people who entered so-called “reparative therapy.”

Thankfully, in North America so-called “reparative therapy” and the damage it causes seem increasingly to be making the news.  But in the midst of this conversation, spare a thought for one freckled, skinny Afrikaner boy who can’t share his story this month with lawmakers and pundits—a story that in many ways sheds a lot of light on our current political and judicial debates.

A South African court is currently in the middle of a murder hearing involving a white-supremacist paramilitary leader named Alex de Koker and the April 2011 death of a 15-year-old boy, Raymond Buys.   Buys had been signed up for a “game ranger training camp” at a farm called Echo Wild, about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.  In reality the camp was an expensive exgay program run by De Koker and designed to turn “moffies”—the Afrikaans word for “faggots”—into macho Afrikaners.

After two months in this program, Buys arrived at a local hospital malnourished, burned, dehydrated, and with wounds all over his body.  He soon died.  Allegedly, two other Afrikaans teenagers had been tortured to death at Echo Wild over the previous six years, although at the time police attributed these deaths to “natural causes.”

Alex de Koker, the self-styled camp “general” with ties to the neo-fascist Afrikaner Resistance Movement, now stands accused of beating, strangulation, humiliation, torture with boiling water, and dragging kids along the back of a pickup truck, all in the service of making them more masculine.

Two months ago, Buy’s story initially sparked some coverage in the international media.  Since then, however, this exgay trial has fallen off the radar screen, although the Afrikaans press has continued to cover the trial’s sometimes bizarre twists and turns, which included a recent courthouse marriage for the accused murderer and a neo-Nazi rally in the spectator bench to support the defendant.

However, Buys’s story instantly struck a chord with me as a gay white South African—now a naturalized American—who grew up in the Kruger National Park under apartheid.  As a child, I was taught to admire the local game rangers’ macho self-reliance: they could shoot a poacher, fix a windmill, and survive in the bush.  So it didn’t surprise me that in South Africa, an exgay program would be disguised as a game ranger training camp.

Then, at age 12, I was sent away to a whites-only boarding school, where a militaristic 17-year-old prefect-disciplinarian took it upon himself to try to “cure” me of my girlishness. He used some of the same methods as De Koker—beatings, mock hangings, and electroshock.

The school didn’t officially tolerate this, any more than South African law officially tolerated De Koker’s beating adolescent boys to death.  But in both cases, regulatory ambiguity facilitated the violations.  It was legal for De Koker to “toughen up” sissies, while at my school instilling militaristic manliness was part of the curriculum.  My parents had to threaten a lawsuit before the prefect was transferred.

Buys’s story, and mine, may strike American readers as outlandish.  Yet the US situation may not be as different to the South African one as Americans might wish.  In many ways, Buys’s story is just that of thousands of Americans, writ large and taken to its logical conclusion.

Currently, in the USA, perhaps a hundred or so exgay treatment programs admit women and men who wish to change both their sexuality and/or gender presentation.  Many of them also provide “refuges” where parents can send their queer teenagers.

As recently as 2007, the Love in Action residential clinic in Memphis, TN—the “flagship” program of the exgay movement—taught forcibly-admitted minors that their gender and sexual instincts were evil and immoral.  They were subjected to methods of psychological abuse ranging from the forbidding of hugs and friendly eye contact to humiliating public confessions of sexual fantasies and behavior.

Such cruelties may not be the same as burn marks or ruptured vital organs.  Yet they can inflict fatal wounds on mental health, resulting in sharply heightened rates of substance abuse, suicide, and self-harm.  They may also result in the reduction of a group or individual’s social vitality—one of scholars’ definitions of genocide.  Mainstream medical bodies sharply critical of sexual orientation conversion therapy today include the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association.

In addition, Box Turtle Bulletin has previously exposed how exgay programs, under pressure at home, have exported their toxic ideologies to my home continent, resulting in murderous laws, like Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Arguably, adult citizens have a constitutional right to harm themselves.  However, youth need to be protected against abuse, and dangerous hate groups need to be curtailed as far as free speech laws permit.  Buys’s story should remind LGBT and other Americans what is at stake.  Like DDT or raw asbestos, exgay ideology may, unchecked, claim our very lives.


June 13th, 2013

Few appreciate that mental torture can be as profound, or worse, than physical torture. After all, we’ve all had an injury or two. What makes physical abuse so damaging is rarely the physical infliction of damage, but the concomitant psychological scarring that takes place. That psychological damage can also be achieved without inflicting physical harm by removing the same elements of trust, self-worth, optimism, and replacing them with misanthropy, distrust, self-loathing, and a persistent sense that the world is not a safe place (and all the anti-social behaviors – and reinforcing social responses – that follow).

As a person who suffered through several years of abuse at the hands of a child psychologist with issues of her own, I can attest to the lasting damage one person can do to individuals and their families… and when dealing with kids, you’re talking about personality-shaping trauma that literally lasts a lifetime.

I get irrationally angry about this issue. My solutions to cases like this are entirely disproportionate and probably wouldn’t pass muster with any reasonable jurist. Let’s just say, without hyperbole, that “drawing and quartering” sounds like a good start for the likes of de Koker. Which is why I’ll never sit on a jury for a case like this one, and that’s probably a good thing.


June 13th, 2013

I may never have read or learned about Buys’ story if not for this site. Thank you for the hard work and research! I will share this post with others. Be encouraged.

Regan DuCasse

June 13th, 2013

Something VERY similar happened to a boy from Orange County here in CA. He was taken from his home in the middle of the night and forced into a boot camp that was meant to toughen HIM up and reprogram him from being ‘spiritually rebellious’. His grades at school weren’t too good, but he’d been bullied at school, which it turns out, was a religious school.
His parents were deeply religious too.
No one said outright that the boy was gay, but then no one in an environment like that necessarily would admit it.
But he by all other accounts, was a nice kid, no other issues that anyone else would be concerned about. Such as being a criminal or using drugs. So what’s the point in making him go to a boot camp for ‘reprogramming’?
When he complained of abdominal pain, he was called a sissy and all the other derogatories. He had a high fever, and they still tried to force him to run and carry heavy rocks. When he finally collapsed they didn’t get him immediate help until his pulse was weak.
By the time he was rushed to a hospital by helicopter he was beyond help and died. He had a gallon of pus and blood in his abdomen and multiple bruises from being kicked there as well as multiple hairline fractures on his arms and legs.
The adult drill leader of the came is up on charges of manslaughter. The boy was fifteen too.
Gay advocates all over the place decried the same situation as this. That it was an ex gay facility.
The incident took place in AZ. So the boy was taken very far from his family.

And by the way, where the hell ARE the parents in the case of the Buys boy? What’s THEIR answer to all this? Are they happy now the suffering they put him through and that he’s in the ground?


June 13th, 2013

Every time I read about one of these horrors, I feel sorrow for the victims and rage at their “loving” parents. I would like to see the parents who are responsible for sending their children into these situations brought up on second degree murder charges. They should be punished for murdering their children and should suffer as much as the child they helped to kill.


June 14th, 2013

Folks you are all just dreaming of an utopia that can never be obtained. When children’s parents or custodians force them into such a program, I am outraged. When adults really want to give it try for some reason, I am not outraged, but ask, don’t they know better.

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