Suicide shadows Colorado’s ‘pray the gay away’ debate
Brad Allen was 31 when he planned to stage his suicide to look like an accident. He wouldn’t leave a note.
“I would just leave a destroyed car and another dead, gay Christian,” he told a bipartisan panel of a dozen Colorado lawmakers in an hours-long hearing Tuesday at the Capitol. He’d planned his suicide because he was a gay man in a Christian conservative family who had gone through therapy and had been told his homosexuality was pathological, something he needed to fix.
Allen never went through with the staged suicide. Instead, he came out to the world as gay. And so he was excommunicated from the church where he was a pastor. His friends ostracized him.
“I’ve worked tirelessly to rid myself of the shame that nearly robbed me of my life and help others understand that there is no belief that is worth their lives,” he said. “I pray daily that the deadly and discredited practice of conversion therapy would be banned forever so that LGBTQ people can stop hating themselves, shaming themselves and killing themselves in the name of therapy.”
Robin Goodspeed was a child in the 1950s when she says a pedophile babysitter abused her. She doesn’t believe she was born gay, but the experience led her to choose homosexuality. When she sought help for addiction and suicidal depression in the ’80s and ’90s, her therapists all told her she was born gay and would have to live with it.
“That was a lie,” Goodspeed told the same panel of lawmakers Tuesday. “Back then therapists told me just to love my lesbian self and I’d be happy. I embraced that lie and lived my entire adult life as an out lesbian.”
But she wasn’t happy, and instead she learned to manage her misery. She was still suicidal, and she looked for a therapist who would help her “recover” her “real self.” And so now Goodspeed is an ex-lesbian who was “freed from the homosexual life” that she lived as an adult “by the grace of God and the power of Jesus Christ.”
“What I want to know is why the state of Colorado wants to make the help that I needed back then so desperately illegal?” she asked the lawmakers. “Why does Colorado condemn children already traumatized by sexual predators to the pain, depression, addiction, disease and suicide that often go with homosexuality?”
Sarah Musick grew up in a loving god-fearing home and figured she’d become a missionary. She went to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Virginia and met her first girlfriend there. She confided in her resident director and was placed in corrective therapy where she was told she couldn’t see her girlfriend any longer. She finished her studies and later came out as gay to her parents. They sent her to Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.
“My parents felt this would protect my father’s reputation in his church and allow me to seek the help they thought I needed,” Musick said. She spent time each week with a gender-issues analyst.
“I came here to be de-gayed through corrective therapy,” she said. “I often joke I flunked out of the Focus program, which is funny but simultaneously quite sad.” Her parents disowned her. Six years ago she tried to kill herself, but survived. She married a woman in the Springs, and they have a daughter together.
“Colorado will value all of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender young people for exactly who they are,” she told the lawmakers. “Not allow them to be subjected to practices trying to change who they are.”
When David Pickup was 5, he was sexually abused by a man in Aurora. As an adult he says he underwent successful reparative therapy, and became a licensed psychotherapist himself. Lately he’s been traveling around the country speaking to lawmakers in states where they’ve aimed to pass legislation outlawing so-called gay conversion therapy. Pickup says every well-trained therapist knows “homosexual feelings often arise in heterosexual boys, for instance, because of being sexually abused by older boys, men, or pedophiles.” To tell them they can’t reduce or eliminate those feelings because it’s illegal will mean a rise in anxiety, depression, and suicide, he says.
Pickup told the panel of lawmakers no authentic, credible reparative therapist would shame anyone for having homosexual feelings or force such therapy onto children.
“The horror stories you may have heard have come from people who have egregiously, unfortunately been a part of some non-licensed quackery or strange religious camps, but they haven’t experienced sound therapy,” he said.
These four very different stories from Allen, Musick, Goodspeed and Pickup crashed into each other during an emotional hearing of a House healthcare committee in Colorado Tuesday evening. The state is the latest to take up a bill banning a kind of licensed counseling for minors that has been called “pray away the gay” therapy. The bill, sponsored by Denver Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal, is a revival of one he championed last year that was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Following several hours of further testimony on both sides, including a reverend, bishop, and attorney (against) and psychologists, LGBT people and mental health advocates (for), the bill passed out of the committee 7-6 along party lines with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no.
The newest member of the committee, Rep. Tim Leonard, an Evergreen real estate developer, cast his vote against it because he felt the bill is “a very long reach of the law.” He struggles with understanding the exact definition of conversion therapy, he said, and also has concerns over free speech issues.
“I think this bill has no place in Colorado,” said the freshman lawmaker.
Republican Kathleen Conti repeatedly asked those who testified if the bill would make it illegal for anyone who is gay and doesn’t want to act gay to find a therapist who could help them put those feelings “on a shelf.”
Banning such therapy “is an issue that Republicans and Democrats agree on,” said Dave Montez, head of One Colorado, a statewide LGBT group, pointing out that two Republican governors have passed similar laws, including Chris Christie of New Jersey who ran for president this year.
In another year of divided government in Colorado, it’s likely the legislation and testimony will end up a symbolic gesture where the bill passes the Democratically controlled House and dies again in the Senate.
Such repetition wasn’t lost on Sarah Musick.
“I testified this exact story last year and I said ‘I’m never doing that again,’” she said. “Because it’s actually quite a heavy realization to have. I still want my parents to be proud of me, I still want them to love me for who I am, I want them to be part of my children’s life, and they aren’t, and that’s quite a sad reality because I didn’t turn out the way they wanted— in spite of our attempts at fixing me.”
Photo credit: See-ming Lee, Creative Commons, Flickr.
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