Listen To One Gay Man's Harrowing Story About Conversion Therapy

"It was out of fear and for me, it became like a life or death situation."

The Republican party’s platform advocates for conversion therapy, a treatment that’s meant to change an LGBT person’s gender or sexual orientation to fit heteronormative expectations and has been condemned by every mainstream mental health and medical association in the U.S.

Last year, President Obama called for an end to the harmful therapy for gay and transgender youth, but only a handful of states have passed laws banning it for minors.

HuffPost’s Maria Tridas spoke to a gay man named Mathew Shurka who underwent conversion therapy for five years.

Shurka explained to Tridas on our most recent episode of “The Spectrum,” a bi-weekly series where we discuss diverse LGBT identities and experiences, that he came out 12 years ago when he was 16 years old. His father was initially “awesome” about supporting him, he said, but then things quickly spiraled.  

“It was a great conversation,” Shurka said. “Literally maybe the next day, my father began to panic and started researching different therapists. Who can he get advice from. What does it mean to have an openly gay son?”

Shurka’s father came across a conversion therapist, a licensed professional, who explained to him that “there is no such thing as being gay” and childhood trauma causes the “psychological condition” of same-sex attraction. 

“So was I a willing person? No, it was out of fear and for me, it became like a life or death situation,” he said. “I loved and followed my father’s advice and followed a professional’s advice, a health professional, to overcome this.”

Shurka called his parents “naive” to the queer experience because they had no LGBT figures to look to for guidance causing them to trust this mental health professional instead. Shurka said he believed in conversion therapy at the time and hoped it would work because he felt like he was “disabled.”

In 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a statement recommending health care professionals avoid the practice. Studies have linked conversion therapy to suicide, depression and anxiety. Despite the widespread condemnation of it, estimates suggest that as many as one in three queer people undergo some form of conversion therapy, a number Shurka also mentioned. 

During the interview, Shurka made a point of discussing the need for a federal ban, which members of Congress have backed. “The amount of suicides and people who are harmed every day, it’s like every week there’s another story of someone in conversion therapy who takes their own life,” he said. 

It’s been years since Shurka has been out of therapy. He’s 28 years old now, is an LGBT activist, but is still dealing with the pain of it all.

“I built a life publicly as an advocate but every day life as a gay man, living here in New York, socially, intimately has been so difficult,” he said. “The shame and the automatic self-hate always shows up.”

In his commitment to end conversion therapy, Shurka mentioned resources for people who are in it: The Trevor Project, The Born Perfect Campaign (where he is an advisory member), and The Human Rights Campaign.

“The more voices and the more survivors we can get to speak, it creates freedom around what people are going through,” he said.

This segment was produced by Jacques Morel, Kira Brekke and Maria Tridas. 



LGBTQ History