I am a Black survivor of “ex-gay” conversion therapy. Unfortunately, there are very few of us who have come out to share our compelling stories.
After experiencing the movement to end conversion therapy firsthand, I now understand why.
When I left the “ex-gay” organization Journey into Manhood, I embarked upon an excruciating healing process that slowly revealed the profound psychological scars I suffered at the abusive hands of conversion therapists. I swore that I would do everything in my power to make sure no one else would ever go through the dehumanizing experiences that I endured. Imbued with optimism and determination, I met with Mathew Shurka, the cofounder of Born Perfect, which is a program of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
I had hoped to collaborate with Shurka, who I assumed would be supportive. After all, elevating the voices of Black and Brown survivors is an element that was sorely lacking in his campaign against conversion practices. I started the potential partnership in good faith by wearing a Born Perfect T-shirt in a Canadian television interview about conversion therapy in Canada, my home country. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm wasn’t reciprocated. Shurka seemingly had little interest in promoting a story other than his own. Sadly, this deprived the public of learning about the full range of voices who had been harmed by conversion practices.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was invited to the United Nations Global Task Force at Harvard University to discuss how to end SOGIGECE (sexual orientation gender identity gender expression change efforts) and learn what strategies were employed by other countries. What should have been an amazing day quickly soured when Shurka brazenly told Canadian government officials that Born Perfect played an instrumental role in efforts to prohibit conversion therapy in Canada.
I was stunned. Having worked tirelessly on this campaign in Toronto, I knew firsthand that he, nor anyone from his organization, had done the work Shurka claimed they had. During our campaign, Shurka had essentially parachuted into our Canadian fight to take underserved credit to elevate his organization’s profile at our expense.
At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond. When I finally worked up the nerve to question Shurka at the UN, he swiftly retaliated by cutting me out of an Instagram story and shunning me for the rest of the conference. While at the UN, Shurka gave a presentation highlighting the “work” that Born Perfect had allegedly performed. In Shurka’s speech, he falsely stated that he was largely responsible for promoting an anti-conversion therapy bill in Virginia, as well as bills in other states and municipalities. He also grossly overstated NCLR’s contributions in the Ferguson vs. JONAH fraud case, when it was actually the Southern Poverty Law Center that deserves most of the credit for putting JONAH, a Jewish “ex-gay” organization, out of business.
A few weeks after the UN incident, I received an invitation to Parliament Hill in Ottawa for the introduction of Bill C-8 (now Bill C-6) at the House of Commons. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I peered at my phone and found that Shurka had created the impression on Instagram that his organization had played an instrumental role in our efforts. His organization had the chutzpah to write the hashtags #Canada #BornPerfect in block letters, with our Instagram handles in tiny print, which took all the attention away from us, and showered it upon himself.
Since the National Center for Lesbian Rights is a large and powerful organization, I kept their untoward actions private. But it’s time the truth is revealed because the Born Perfect’s troubling behavior is having a negative impact on worldwide efforts to ban “ex-gay” conversion practices. Accountability is particularly important to me now, because while I was at Journey into Manhood, we were unable to question the cultlike “ex-gay” leadership.
Instead of personal healing, Shurka’s behavior has added additional layers of tears, depression and hurt. While no one is actually born perfect, we all have the capacity to learn, grow and improve. NCLR’s anti-conversion therapy campaign desperately needs to take a timeout to reassess its core mission. The organization should also make a concerted effort to tell the stories of all who were traumatized by conversion therapy, instead of tokenizing Black and Brown survivors to give the appearance of caring about diversity. Finally, they must stop aggressively running toward the television cameras to outrageously take credit for work they did not perform.
I left conversion therapy to find a community of honor, decency and integrity. Sadly, I have found none of these attributes in the Born Perfect campaign.