Mormon Anti Gay Shock Therapy

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In America, ABC news service recently revealed how the Mormon Church, under the guise of one of its universities, used shock therapy as one of the methods to "potentially treat" same sex attraction in the 70s.

Then student, John Cameron, said he was a naive and devout Mormon who felt "out of sync" with the world, when he volunteered to be part of a study of "electric aversion therapy" in 1976 at Utah's Mormon owned Brigham Young University.

Twice a week for six months, he jolted himself with painful shocks to the penis to rid himself of his attraction to men.

"I kept trying to fight it, praying and fasting and abstaining and being the best person I could," said Cameron, now a 59-year-old playwright and head of the acting program at the University of Iowa.

His undercurrent of gay feelings put him in direct conflict with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) and its principles.

"As teens we were taught that homosexuality was second only to murder in the eyes of God," he said.

The 1976 study at Brigham Young, "Effect of Visual Stimuli in Electric Aversion Therapy," was written by Max Ford McBride, then a graduate student in the psychology department.

"I thought he was my savior," said Cameron, who enrolled with 13 other willing subjects, all Mormons who thought they might be gay, for a three- to six-month course of therapy.

A mercury-filled tube was placed around the base of the penis and the students were shown alternating slides of men and women in various stages of undress.

When participants responded to images of men with an erection, the closed electric circuit was broken and they received three-second electrical shocks at 10-second intervals. Each session lasted an hour. Participants set their own pain levels.

Cameron said his shame was so deep that he selected the highest level.

Homosexuals were seen as a "prurient, expendable population," according to Cameron. "To admit homosexuality in 1976 was the kiss of death. You could be targeted, lose your job, lose your income, lose everything."

Psychologists confirm those harsh experiments were used in a variety of medical settings by scientists of all faiths.

Church officials say they no longer support aversion therapy, but a generation who grew up in the 1970s say they have been scarred for life because of well-intentioned attempts to change their sexual orientation.

Today, the Mormon church still steadfastly opposes homosexuality.

Carri P. Jenkins, assistant to the president of BYU, confirmed that McBride did study the effects of aversion therapy in the 1970s. She said the experiment was an "outgrowth of the behaviorist movement, which believed that any behavior could be modified.

"Our understanding is that most behaviorists no longer believe this is an appropriate treatment for those who are seeking change," she said.

Jenkins said other universities at the time used similar techniques, and none of this type has taken place at BYU since then.

"The BYU Counseling Center never practiced therapy that would involve chemical or induced vomiting," she said.

The university, which is owned by the Mormon Church, said its policy on homosexuality is in line with Mormon doctrine -- today's students are not disciplined unless they engage in sexual activity, and that includes heterosexual sex before marriage.

"BYU will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction, and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards," said Jenkins. "Members of the university community can remain in good standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with Gospel principles."

Another ex student of the university, Connell O'Donovan, who now works at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told ABCNews.com he was sent to BYU in 1976 for vomit therapy, but couldn't go through with it.

BYU said its counseling services never conducted such treatment, but O'Donovan counters that he was evaluated by Joseph Smith Family Living Center, another Mormon service on campus.

In 1986, he said he volunteered for "extremely debilitating hypnotherapy" through another Utah counseling center, He said a Mormon intern hypnotized him, splitting him into "Gay Connell" and "Straight Connell."

"He then had me visualize Jesus coming down through the ceiling and utterly destroying Gay Connell to dust and then 'a mighty wind' blowing all the dust away," said O'Donovan. "This is the single most emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually crippling experience of my entire life."

"Some 18 years later I am still healing from that traumatic "therapeutic" experience," he writes in a 2004 essay on his journey.

Charles Silverstein, a clinical psychologist with New York City's Institute for Human Identity, said every psychiatric and mental health organization opposes aversion therapy.

Silverstein was recently given the American Psychological Association Lifetime-Achievement Award for helping to remove "homosexuality" from the list of illnesses in psychiatry's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" in 1973.

"There is no treatment for homosexuality today in the professional community," said Silverstein. "All of them are on the record as saying that homosexuality is within the normal range of human behavior."

Of his clinical patients over the years, he said those who were Mormon "suffered the most."


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