A response to Rev. Kevin Gore by library board member Mark Nichols published in the Nov. 4 Jonesboro Sun defends Nichols’ choice to distribute DVDs of “In His Image” after a library board meeting.
Mr. Nichols claims he was “simply offering a DVD, without any coercion or pressure.” It is in fact coercive to distribute materials in the same space and immediately following a meeting where one serves on the board given the implicit power board members have to implement related policy.
Additionally, it is inappropriate to serve on the board of a secular public entity and use that position to evangelize one’s faith with a film that, in Mr. Nichols’ words, “shares the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Mr. Nichols’ letter outlines his personal “beliefs and convictions” as motivation. We celebrate your inalienable right to practice, raise your children in, and live your life by the teachings of your religion. But your power to exert your religious views extends no further than your person and your home. When you expect others to live based on your religious views, you’ve infringed on their freedom of, and freedom from, religion.
Mr. Nichols repeatedly draws comparisons of same sex relationships to lying and adultery. He implies that being gay is “ultimately harmful” and “will tear apart your family.” Contrary to these claims, there is nothing inherently harmful about being gay, and research has shown that in families of equivalent stability, the sex and gender of the parents did not make any difference in the psychological health, happiness, parental attachment or overall success of their children.
After explaining his personal Christian theology at length, Mr. Nichols then repeats his concerns with several specific library titles. These concerns grossly misrepresent the content of these books, as addressed most recently by the library itself.
Mr. Nichols’ writes: “the premise of Rev. Gore’s column is based off a false, redefined debate about a harmful and barbaric therapy that I do not condone.” While we are grateful that Mr. Nichols does not condone aversion therapy, it is important to note that aversion therapy is not the only form of conversion therapy.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) includes talk therapy and cognitive or behavioral therapy in their definition of conversion therapy. Ex-gay ministry is often discussed as either adjacent to or within the larger orbit of conversion therapy, as evidenced by two of the films contributors.
Dr. Michelle Cretella is the executive director of the American College of Pediatricians (membership about 600), a splinter group formed when the American Academy of Pediatrics (membership about 67,000) advocated for LGBTQ+ adoption. They “support therapy for children and adolescents with unwanted non-heterosexual attractions.” Dr. Cretella is the only medical professional in the film “In His Image” and has left medical practice to do anti-LGBTQ advocacy.
Steven Black is the executive director of First Stone Ministries, which “specialize(s) in leading those caught in a homosexual lifestyle ... to freedom in Jesus Christ.” Ex-gay ministry may use of the same psychological practices as traditional conversion therapy, but does so outside of the training and oversight of psychology licensure. Bonus material for “In His Image” explicitly recommends that reaching out to First Stone Ministries.
The American Counseling Association (ACA) “opposes conversion therapy because it does not work ... It is an attempt to treat something that is not a mental illness.” Exposure to conversion therapy, even “responsible therapy,” leads to a three- to six-fold increase in suicidal ideation, mental distress, substance abuse and family rejection.
In his defense of distributing “In His Image,” Mr. Nichols misrepresents the treatment of gender dysphoria. To be clear, first-line treatment for gender dysphoria is talk therapy. Following that, individuals can pursue social, medical and surgical transition as feels appropriate for them. Any hormone treatment prescribed to a child is done under the supervision of an endocrinologist. Puberty blockers are not sterilizing, cross-sex hormones are not universally sterilizing, and prior to any procedure that may lead to reduced fertility, measures are taken to preserve fertility. Approximately 33 percent of transgender individuals pursue a surgical transition.
Mr. Nichols later asks: “Other books tell children their sex/gender can change from day to day or year to year ... Is this love?” In reply, we ask: Is it not? Children’s imaginations and self-image do change from day to day. Do you believe that children are requesting full medical, social and surgical transitions each time their gender identity changes? Or, by allowing them to explore their identity with the full freedom and assurance that you love them, without condition, throughout the entirety of the process are we giving them the freedom, support and love to be whomever they were created to be?
You can find a longer version of this letter with references at medium.com/@cdccljonesboro/what-is-the-loving-thing-to-do-518089bead02.
Ali Conn is a resident of Jonesboro.