TUESDAY, MAY 17, 2011 By NESTOR LAIVIERA
Pastor Gordon-John Manche's faith conversions for gay men have attracted condemnation from the gay community and psychologists alike.
"Talking about a 'cure' for homosexuality is like talking about a cure for hunger or vegetarianism" - psychologist Cher Engerer.
Speaking to MaltaToday on the controversial issue of homosexual 'conversion' psychologist Cher Engerer is candid in her replies. "Talking about a 'cure' for homosexuality is like talking about a cure for hunger or vegetarianism," she says.
Homosexual 'cures' or 'conversion' hit the headlines in recent weeks when a faith conversion event organised by Smash TV's evangelical charismatic pastor Gordon-John Manché provoked widespread anger and criticism of homophobia and intolerance.
"It's not therapy," Manche had said. "It was going to be testimonials from three men who were homosexuals before giving their life to Christ. It's got nothing to do with hating homosexuals," Manché said. The event 'Gay no more – Made new by the power of Christ' was cancelled by Manché after protestors planned a picket protest, which was later also cancelled due to lack of police permits.
Claims also surfaced of how Manche's wife psychologist Mariella Blackman prescribes Christian reparative treatment for gay men and women. The claims were denied by both Manche and Blackman in statements to MaltaToday.
However the question of whether such faith conversion and homosexual reparative therapy are ethical or even effective remained.
Speaking to MaltaToday, Engerer says that "the great majority of people who seek clinical help for homosexual issues often attend therapy as a result of their family's or societies' prejudices, maltreatment, and discrimination."
She stresses that most of these individuals are healthy, sane and live a most ordinary and happy life, but social pressure can make their experience of 'coming out' and being gay a traumatic one.
"The level of distress faced by the individual during this process is influenced by their own level of acceptance, the common cultural and religious norms within their community, as well as the level of support and acceptance they receive from those around them, especially friends and family," she says.
Engerer maintains that it is now "practically common knowledge amongst professionals, that the problems facing homosexuals are not the product of the individual's sexual orientation, but rather society's response to it." She adds that, sometimes, it is in fact a homosexual's own negative feelings, attitudes and beliefs dealing with homosexuality that influence their distress.
She describes this as 'internalised homophobia', and says that it takes a significant toll on a person's self-esteem, leading to considerable psychological distress. "If we grow up in a culture in which homosexuality is deemed an illness, and heterosexuality the cure, it is difficult not to internalise such sentiments and beliefs."
She says that, for years, the question of 'what causes homosexuality?' has remained highly controversial in the scientific community. "There's much disagreement as to whether biological or environmental factors determine sexual orientation, or whether the individual has a conscious choice in the matter," she says.
However, she says that recent studies have indicated that ones sexual orientation is not a question of choice.
"Gay men and lesbians do not choose to have erotic feelings toward persons of the same sex any more than heterosexual persons choose to have erotic feelings towards persons of the opposite sex," she says. "Sexuality in itself is a multi-faceted and complex phenomenon, which is unique to each individual, and develops through a number of genetic, environmental and social paradigms."
She also referred to how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM) officially removed homosexuality from its domain almost nearly 40 years – a clear sign of changing nature of the perceptions of homosexuality.
"Attempts by parents, therapists and society at large to change or convert the sexual orientation of an individual are damaging, destructive and unethical," she adds. "Also, recent studies have not supported any credible evidence that sexual orientation can in fact even be changed."
"A current towards unconditional acceptance is in fact the only way forward," Engerer says pointing out that in the ideal world, human beings understand that each individual is unique, even in their sexual orientation. "It's not about being gay or 'straight'," she says, "but about whom you are, and whom you happen to fall in love with. It is about allowing people their differences in a society which is already tarnished by too much hatred and prejudice."
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