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With no ban, conversion therapy, by other names, still goes on in SC

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
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TAYLORS, S.C. (WCSC) - While “conversion therapy” is rarely the phrase now used to describe attempts to change or modify someone’s sexual orientation, it’s happening in South Carolina, one of 26 states the Human Rights Campaign says has no laws addressing the practice.

At-Large Columbia Councilwoman Tameika Isaac-Devine requested that Columbia City Council ban the practice in the city, which would make the state’s capital the first city in the state to do so.

The council gave unanimous first approval to an ordinance outlawing professional therapists working with minors from trying to, “change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

However, state Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R-Spartanburg, wants to block the ban if it ends up passing because he says the ordinance would infringe on someone’s religious freedoms.

Two hours northwest of Columbia, Pastor Peter Hubbard is planning to lead a “Same-Sex Attraction” forum at a church in Taylors at the end of June.

Hubbard said the term “conversion therapy” is most often used by opponents of the practice. While he works with people who identify as gay transition to being in a heterosexual relationship, he doesn’t consider the work he does “conversion.”

“We are more malleable than previously understood, so we want to walk that journey with someone and ask, ‘how can I honor Christ with this palate of attractions,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard wrote a book titled, “Love into Light: The Gospel, The Homosexual, and The Church.”

He says his approach is based on transforming someone using the power of love and the Gospel, and he says his methods work and help people.

The pastor views homosexuality as an attraction like infidelity or premarital sex.

“I can point to many examples of men in our church who lived a gay lifestyle and are now happily married with children honoring Christ, loving life. That doesn’t mean they are never tempted, but every heterosexual man is battling as well to stay pure or committed to his wife,” Hubbard said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says some of the terms Hubbard uses, in particular, the name of his forum, can be described as masking language.

Hubbard believes that his approach is more loving than others that are built around coercion and force; therefore, he says he is more successful.

“We want to be able to help them begin to look at what they are experiencing through the scripture rather than just the lens of their cravings and culture,” he said.

However, even someone who has the first-hand experience in this world believes all forms of conversion therapy can be harmful.

McKrae Game used to lead a conversion therapy organization, but now publicly speaks out against their practices.

“It’s now basically talk therapy, aversion therapy. No one is making anyone straight,” Game said.

Game was forced out of the group he led, “Hope for Wholeness,” in 2017. He then came out as gay himself and made headlines across the country for his strong stance against the organization he once lead.

Hope for Wholeness disbanded in 2020, but Hubbard says some of the group’s methods are still around.

Conversion therapy has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, among other medical groups.

“These interventions are provided under the false premise that homosexuality and gender diverse identities are pathological. They are not; the absence of pathology means there is no need for conversion or any other like intervention. Further, there is evidence that “conversion therapies” increase risk of causing or exacerbating mental health conditions in the very youth they purport to treat.” wrote the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in a policy statement.

A study from the UCLA Williams Institute found that people who have gone through conversion therapy are “twice as likely to attempt suicide.”

“That’s essentially what you have is extremely religious shame-based people who hate themselves,” Game said.

Hubbard insists shame is not what guides his work and he is not trying to change anyone.

“Historically, the church has said homosexuality is a choice and the world has said, the culture has said you’re born that way, and I think both of them are wrong,” Hubbard said when asked if being gay is a choice. “It’s more complex than that. We are born broken in a myriad of different ways. And our goal is not to throw condemnation on anyone because I need Christ’s transforming power as much as anyone else.”

In fact, Hubbard says he has heard stories of people who have undergone conversion therapy at other places across the state that he thinks are “harmful and horrific,” but that is nothing like his teachings and forums when he is “walking a journey with someone.”

He says in the past couple of years so many of the other people who take his same approach are not as public about what they do.

“It’s too strong to say it went underground, but that’s really the case. They continue to see lives changed but you’re not going to hear that story because they have eliminated the negative methods, the harmful methods but they continue to want to tell the power of Jesus to change lives,” Hubbard said.

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