Conversion Therapy: 50 Bills 50 States

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Samuel Brinton spoke at North Dakota State about “50 Bills 50 States,” a campaign to end conversion therapy — the forced change of an individual’s sexual orientation — of LGBTQ+ people in the United States. Brinton is a nuclear physicist for the United States government and a survivor of conversion therapy that travels the country speaking out for the rights of others when they are not in the lab. 

According to Brinton, conversion therapy can be very gruesome. Scientists would try mental and physical ways to change the patient’s sexual orientation.  

“They were trying to physically change people,” Brinton said. “They removed the testes of a straight person and inserted them into the location of the testes of a gay man.” 

The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, conducts research in an attempt to prove that conversion therapy works.  

“Here’s how they do research,” Brinton said. “You walk out of a conversion therapy center, there are hundreds and thousands of them all over the country, and they have a questionnaire that asks you, ‘Are you straight?’ You have just paid tens of thousands to receive this treatment. You will likely get kicked out of your home, your church and probably your job if you answer no. So, what are you going to say the day you leave conversion therapy? You are absolutely going to answer yes.” 

Brinton stated that they believe religion is often at the root of conversion therapy and that the people forcing the individuals to do it believe they are doing good. Brinton considers themself a “queer person of faith.”  

“It is not actually the faith that is doing wrong; it is man-made religion and misapplication of that faith that is actually hurting people,” Brinton said. “I am not blaming a church. I am blaming the people who did wrong things because man-made religion told them this, not their faith. Because no God that I know of wants harm of another person.” 

Brinton spoke of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) school Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah that sought out 12 men and told them that if they did not sign a form to go through conversion therapy, the school would out them to their family, charge them back any scholarship money they had been given and be kicked out of the university.  

“Thousands of LGBT youth go through conversion therapy every year and they do this by signing a form saying, ‘I need this; I need conversion therapy,'” Brinton explained. “Now, that need is done under coercion. It is not a place of safety, but it is still something that commonly happens.”

Brinton stated that everyone has absolutely met someone that has undergone conversion therapy, but they are unable to speak about it because there is a sense of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that comes along with it.  

Brinton had a story of their own when it came to conversion therapy. They were hit so hard by their father that they ended up in the hospital from being knocked unconscious. Brinton’s therapist told them phrases like, “Sam, you are the last gay person alive,” “The government killed off all the people that were gay” and “Every gay person has AIDS when they are born.” 

After the therapist said these things to a young, impressionable Sam, Brinton said that they started to use aversion therapy, which is a means of associating a behavior or action with a negative response such as an electric bark collar on a dog.  

“At first, I was bound to a table and my hands were put in ice,” Brinton said. “That ice was put on my hands while I looked at pictures of just men holding hands with other men. I associated the cold that I was feeling with the image that I was seeing. When cold didn’t work, extreme heat was used. When heat didn’t work, electroshock was applied.” 

Brinton says the American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and the American Pediatric Association have come out and said that conversion therapy is not effective. 

At the end of the talk, Brinton assigned everyone “homework.” They said to tell three people about what you heard in the next 24 hours, post about #50bills50states and #BornPerfect, consider having a conversation about it in the classroom or congregation and submit a bill in North Dakota.  

The talk was presented by the NDSU Pride Alliance and the Office of Gender and Diversity and took place in the Festival Concert Hall.

Conversion therapy is legal in 41 states. The website that Samuel Brinton provided for those who are interested is www.thetrevorproject.org/50-bills-50-states/. 

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