KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Conversion Therapy, sometimes referred to as Reparative Therapy, is based on the premise that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that can be cured.
Conversation therapy's goal is to turn gay people straight and teach transgender folks how to be the sex they were born. Some say it is lifesaving, while others say practice is dangerous and simply doesn't work.
“I think what saved me was when I went to the hospital that night,” said Clinton Bradley, a Navy veteran who suffers from PTSD.
In 2005, he was in such emotional distress; Bradley tried to end his life by overdosing on pills and alcohol. Bradley's trauma is not the result of his service, but started long before, when he was a child. He was a gay boy living in a strict Christian household.
"The things that were always said to me were gays should be shipped off to a deserted island and blown it up,” Bradley said. “And, if I ever knew one of my kids were gay, I would throw them in a closet with the Bible, lock it and I would shoot their lover.”
Bradley suppressed his feelings until he came out of that closet his senior year at Hillsdale Freewill Baptist College.
“When I came out to my parents in Bible college, the first words out of my father`s mouth was, ‘I’d rather hear you’re dead than gay,’" Bradley said.
Bradley had two options: get kicked out of school and kicked out of his family or go through conversion therapy.
Bradley chose the latter, and tried several different faith-based programs to cure him of, what they called, his sinful behavior.
“It makes you think that you don`t know who you are,” Bradley said. “They definitely let you know that those feelings are never going to go away. What they let you know is that there are practices in place almost like Alcoholics Anonymous. There are practices that are in place that you can do to basically suffocate the feelings.”
Until 12 years ago, Amanda Smith identified as a lesbian who also questioned her gender.
“I know what it feels like to be in a woman`s body and feel uncomfortable in that body. And ask the Lord, 'Did you make a mistake? Did you make a mistake?'” Smith said. “And I also know that he absolutely did not make a mistake.”
When Smith became a Christian, she became conflicted about her sexual orientation and gender identity. With the help of Desert Stream Ministries, Smith says her attraction to women has diminished.
“I was obviously living in that lifestyle, had girlfriends” Smith said. “Now I live at Chase to Life with the help of the Holy Spirit. I don`t shake my hand at the heavens and say, 'God you have to take this away from me or else.'”
Smith sees her former life a as a sinful life, and she now works at Desert Stream Ministries with Executive Director of the faith based organization, Abbey Foard.
“We are not actually a conversion therapy organization,” Foard said.
She says Desert Stream Ministries is not a therapeutic organization, but a prayer ministry that equips people who struggle with their sexuality and other issues to walk with the lord.
“We are looking at it as kind of a fundamental brokenness related to God`s creative vision for mankind,” Foard said. “So we are working with people, we are saying, 'Alright, this is something you desire.' In our case we do a 20-week group where we’re talking, teaching, praying, speaking, on various topics actually, that contribute to our brokenness.”
“The goal is to get you to uncover lies what you believe about yourself and your identity and also the lies that that I believe about who God is and what he says about me,” Smith said.
Through therapy at Desert Stream Ministries, Smith now feels comfortable in her body. She says she still struggles from time to time, “But I`m comfortable in my body. I say it`s good that God made me a woman, ”Smith said.
Steph Perkins, Executive Director of LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO, calls conversion therapy an incredibly harmful practice.
"We are using a practice that has no scientific backing, against young people who are forming into adults trying to figure out who they are,” Perkins said. “And they are seeking support from the people they love. This causes a lifetime of damage, and so it is our hope to change that.”
In 2007, the American Psychological Association formed a task force to study sexual orientation change efforts and concluded they are unsuccessful and dangerous.
Since then, at least 15 states have drafted laws banning conversion therapy of minors by licensed medical professionals. Due to the separation of church and state, faith-based organizations like Desert Stream Ministries are not affected.
A similar bill is being considered in Jefferson City, called the Youth Mental Health Preservation Act.
“And I think once we start getting those laws out there to an understanding it helps the community in driving out this pseudo-counseling faith-based organizations,” Bradley said.
Smith, on the other hand, who says Desert Stream’s therapy has helped her, says, “I would say that we are all free to choose.”
The Kansas City Center for Inclusion and Equity Kansas are teaming up to host a panel discussion about the effects of conversion therapy. It is taking place June 16th, 2019 from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Johnson County Resource Library, 9875 West 87th Street, Overland Park, Kan., 66212.