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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Pray the Gay Away

By Peter DeWitt — July 20, 2011 2 min read
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Things will get better. And more than that, with time you're going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength. You'll look back on the struggles you've faced with compassion and wisdom. And that's not just going to serve you, but it will help you get involved and make this country a better place (Obama, It Gets Better, p. 10).

Last week, ABC News reported that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband, Dr. Marcus Bachmann, believe that through the use of counseling, gays can change their sexual orientation. Bachmann has not denied, nor has she confirmed the opinions expressed in the ABC News story. It’s not the first time she has come under criticism for connections to anti-gay remarks. “She once likened it to personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement” (Stolberg. The New York Times, July 16, 2011, p.1).

As much as this opinion is not new, it still sends a harmful message to our students for two reasons. It tells LGBT students that the world is not a safe place to come out. Secondly, it tells anti-gay proponents that being gay is a choice, which also has harmful effects harmful on LGBT youth.

Whether manifested or not, there is a sense of being somehow different than the world expects them to be, and this is a source of considerable identity conflict for most homosexual students" (Marinoble, 1998, p.55).

Teenage years are hard enough because of all the storm and stress that happens with academic studies, family relationships, and friends. Social issues with friends is one of the biggest contributing factors that impede a student’s academic progress. Having the extra element of needing to hide who you are for fear that others will not like or love you anymore, including your family, is painful, and that is what LGBT students fear before and after they come out. It is a very raw and stressful time for students.

Ten years ago, many gay people came out in their twenties after the stress of high school was long behind them. Presently, we see students coming out during their teenage years, which is very commendable because it takes a great deal of strength to do so. However, some LGBT students painfully walk in our doors everyday trying to be someone they are not, and our society does not make that any easier, especially when there are stories that you can “pray the gay away.”

The reality is that you cannot pray the gay away, and the more LGBT and heterosexual students hear this message, the more they will think it’s a reality. The harmful effect of these types of stories is that they help create bullying situations. Heterosexual students with bullying tendencies already make LGBT students their targets, and this type of message will only contribute to that.

Contrary to what real counseling does, which is treat people with compassion as they try to work through a problem, this type of aversion or reparative therapy sends a message that you need to change who you are because it’s not normal. In addition, it will perpetuate the fear within LGBT students that something is wrong with them, and when they come to the conclusion that they cannot change who they are, they are left with feelings of depression, anger, and insecurities about who they are, which can lead to devastating conclusions.

Comments by Bachmann’s husband, and the lack of comments addressing the issue by Bachmann herself, do not help LGBT students feel any safer as they negotiate this difficult time in their lives. Nor does it help those students who have never been exposed to LGBT students understand that the reality is that they cannot change being gay, nor should they have to.

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GLSEN. (2009). 2009 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation's Schools New York, NY: GLSEN. It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living (2011), Edited by Dan Save & Terry Miller, Dutton, New York, NY. Marinoble, R. M. (1998a). Counseling and supporting our gay students, Education Digest. Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, For Bachmann, Gay Rights Stand Reflects Mix of Issues and Faith, New York Times, July 17, 2011.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.