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Conversion therapy: When did it enter our conversation space?

We talk about the history of conversion therapy with GLAAD Senior Director Ross Murray.

MINNEAPOLIS — As a Minnesotan living in New York, Ross Murray said he thought the governor's executive order is a step in the right direction.

"I think this executive order is going to go a long way to protect youth and vulnerable adults from being preyed upon," Murray said. "Being communicated to that they are some how less than."

As the senior director of GLAAD, a national LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Murray said he's worked on pushing the legislature to ban conversion therapy.

And through that, he knows a bit about the practice and its history.

"The largest program that tried to change sexual orientation and gender identity was called Exodus International, and it was founded in 1976," Murray said. "And it was created kind of like a support group, similar to what you see in Alcoholics Anonymous, that people could talk and share with each other. What's interesting is that the two people who founded the organization realized that it was a sham and that it was actually harmful."

Murray said although Exodus disbanded in 2012, fringe groups continued to run with the idea.

"Over time, there have been a lot of attempts to try to force a change in someone's sexual orientation and gender identity," he said. "Those programs have been called different things over time. Sometimes it's been called conversion therapy although it's not actual therapy because it has been dismissed by the major medical and psychological associations as both ineffective and harmful to people that do it."

The Minnesota Medical Association issued this statement after Governor Walz signed his executive order. 

MMA President-Elect Randy Rice wrote,

"On behalf of its more than 12,000 physician and physician-in-training members, the Minnesota Medical Association applauds Gov. Tim Walz's action today to ban conversion therapy for Minnesota youth. So-called "conversion therapy" is not therapy at all.  It leads to poor self-esteem, self-harm, guilt, and anxiety, all while being devoid of any scientific basis. The MMA, AMA, American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other health care organizations oppose the practice of conversation therapy. The MMA is committed to promoting evidence-based medicine for all patients, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and other (LGBTQ+)."

Currently conversation therapy or "ex-gay programs" have been banned in 20 states.

Prior to Governor Walz's executive order, nine cities in Minnesota had independently passed ordinances to ban conversion therapy. This includes Minneapolis, St. Paul, West St. Paul, Bloomington, Winona, Rochester, Red Wing, Robbinsdale and Duluth. 

Murray said as Minnesota navigates this dialogue, he wants to clarify one thing about where religion fits into all of this.

"A lot of the people that are pushing ex-gay programs or conversion therapy often use a lot of religious language," Murray said. "I think it's important for viewers to understand that there have been religious communities that have learned how to love and accept and include LGBTQ in the life of their church and programs. I'm using Christian language because it's predominantly where this is coming from, it's not exclusively, but this does not represent even a mainstream religious or Christian perspective."

Murray said he has done consulting work for the film 'Pray Away,' a documentary on conversion therapy. 'Pray Away' can be found on Netflix starting in August.

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