After years of struggling with his own sexual identity, Glenn Wyler says he's finally at peace. He's married, with two children, and says he's 100 percent heterosexual.
The transition was a difficult one for Wyler, of Virginia and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He turned to God, praying, hoping his homosexual urges would end. He tried therapy and eventually did adopt what he calls the gay lifestyle, but his life still seemed chaotic.
"My hope was that God would change me without me having to do any of the work," he said. "My struggle was secretive for a long time. . . . I think the biggest realization I came to was reparative therapy."
Wyler said after his change, he started People Can Change, an online support group, which also holds weekend retreats around the country for men who want to lessen or eliminate their homosexual desire. Wyler is hosting such a retreat this weekend in eastern Utah's Duchesne County.
But many therapists say the science behind reparative therapy is flawed, success rates of change in sexual orientation are low, and the therapy can cause even more emotional harm to patients struggling with their sexual identity.
In May 2000, the American Psychiatric Association released a statement cautioning therapists against reparative therapy, saying in part: "The validity, efficacy and ethics of clinical attempts to change an individual's sexual orientation have been challenged. To date, there are no scientifically rigorous outcome studies to determine either the actual efficacy or harm of 'reparative' treatments."
Psychoanalyst Jack Drescher, chairman of the APA Commission on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Concerns, said reparative therapy is not well studied and is often practiced by people who believe homosexuality is a mental illness. The APA ceased using the therapy in 1973.
Wyler said reparative therapy is based on the theory that homosexuality is caused by a lack of healthy same-sex bonding as a child.
"The same-sex attraction is a desire to sort of fill in the gap of what was missing earlier in life," he said. "Our philosophy is if the core needs are met in non-sexual ways, male bonding among other things, the desire for the sexual attraction diminishes."
Wyler said his attraction to men has gradually decreased. He said 60 percent of those who have gone through his weekend seminars since they started about two years ago have seen at least some increase in their opposite-sex attraction.
Psychiatrist Mary Barber of Kingston, N.Y., president of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, said in general, the data from reparative therapy suggest that "very few people change.
"We don't know what makes people gay," Barber said. "We don't know what makes people straight. . . . I do think that if somebody has a fairly strong gay identity, in terms of their attraction to other people, it is usually hard to change that."
Salt Lake City psychologist Lee Beckstead has done two qualitative studies on conversion therapy, which includes reparative therapy. He interviewed members of the LDS Church who underwent some form of conversion therapy some said they were harmed, others helped.
Beckstead said none of those he interviewed could "feel a generalized increase in heterosexual arousal."
"If anything, they decreased their sexuality altogether, which fit for them," he said. "That's what they really needed."
Beckstead said those who said the therapy was harmful said "it gave false hope" by promising results that weren't possible.
He said those who benefitted said it made them realize it was OK to have same-sex attraction. He said it provided religious validation, support, reframing and behavioral strategies so that they could find ways to accept themselves and reduce their homosexual behaviors.
However, he said the theory that homosexual feelings are caused by a lack of same-sex affection as a child is unsubstantiated.
"Researchers have found just the opposite," he said. "Family dynamics do not have any role in the development of sexual orientation."
Beckstead said neither reparative therapy nor therapy that is focused solely on adopting the gay identity is complete.
"We need a more centered approach, a more balanced approach, to allow them to find the identity that fits for them," he said.
One man, who said he struggled for years with his same-sex attraction before accepting his gay identity, was among the first members of Evergreen, a reparative therapy support group focused on members of the LDS Church.
"The good thing it did for me, is Evergreen gave me a safe place to start talking about issues and feelings in a safe environment," said Russ Gorringe of Salt Lake City.Comment on this story
"I believed I could change," said Gorringe, who was on the Evergreen board of directors for about 10 years. But as time went on he realized there was a divide between his faith and his reality.
"Nothing had changed. Nothing was going to change," he said. "I had the faith for the miracle but was still being denied the miracle," he said.
After 25 years of marriage and four children, Gorringe is now divorced, has accepted his gay identity and is involved in LDS Reconciliation, which helps people accept their gay or lesbian identities."I'm more at peace with myself, I'm more at peace with my God," he said. "I now look at the gift of being gay as a gift, not a curse or a trial. I still think it's important for me to live the gospel."