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When Darren Calhoun was an 18-year-old college sophomore, a church pastor told him that if he followed his directions and prayed enough, he could become “pleasing” to God, meaning no longer gay. Calhoun, an impressionable young man trying to live a moral life, believed this strong, charismatic figure, particularly because the church did so much other socially progressive community work.
The pastor convinced Calhoun to drop out of college and move into the church basement to live on a paltry church stipend of $50 per week. Calhoun spent the next two years under this pastor’s instruction. He would tell Calhoun that being gay was terrible, that the devil wanted him to be “full of AIDS” and that Calhoun just needed to “get right with God.”
“I think toxic masculinity fueled the [pastor’s] ignorance and homophobia that drove his actions,” Calhoun says in a recent article about his experiences. “He feared what he didn’t understand, so he sought to eliminate it.”
After about two years, Calhoun decided that many things in his life needed fixing, but his sexuality wasn’t one of them. He says, “I recognized that no matter what I did, I couldn’t change. And I didn’t need to.”
Darren Calhoun, now 38, has since become an LGBTQ community leader working with the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Born Perfect Campaign to end conversion therapy nationwide.
A 2018 study says 20,000 LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before the age of 18. Approximately 57,000 youth will receive the treatment from a religious or spiritual advisor.
Almost every major psychological association in existence condemns conversion therapy as a form of psychological torture. Conversion therapy has been known to use electroshock therapy, solitary confinement, shame, rape, beatings, forced medications and other forms of physical and psychological torture to force people to change their sexual orientation or gender identity even though no scientific research suggests that such change is possible.
Every professional psychological association has called the practice a form of mental abuse. Thus far 13 U.S. states have already banned the harmful practice, and Delaware could follow as a ban has already been approved by the state Senate and is awaiting a House vote.