George Michael would have turned in his grave with the ruling of the U.S. court that banning conversion therapy violates the First Amendment (Read the court’s full decision here).
The pop superstar, who passed away in 2016, was one of the first celebrities who have spoken out against conversion therapy back in the late 90s.
What is Conversion Therapy?
Conversion therapy is the process of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It rests on the premise that “you are bad and need to change.” It is based on the false and incredibly damaging idea that homosexuality is a mental health issue that can be “cured”. In practice, conversion therapy ranges from “praying the gay away” to torture.
However, many studies have shown that conversion therapy is not only ineffective but damaging. A Cornell University study showed that “there is no credible evidence that sexual orientation can be changed through therapeutic intervention.” Even worse, conversion therapy “is ineffective and/or harmful, finding links to depression, suicidality, anxiety, social isolation and decreased capacity for intimacy.”
The practice has been discredited through the years. Prior to this new ruling, about 20 states in the US have banned the practice and many groups, including American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and American Psychological Association oppose the practice.
George Michael’s Stand on the Issue
George was compelled to speak out against conversion therapy after reading an article about American centers that aim to cure children from homosexuality or conversion therapy centers. In the late ‘90s, he read the piece “Hiding Out” by Tomas Mournian, an investigative feature about gay youths who escaped from reparative therapy bootcamps into an underground network of safehouses. It was first published by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and reprinted in the British gay magazine Attitude.
I’m constantly shocked by people’s attitudes towards their children. And I feel incredibly strongly about attitudes towards gay children. The strongest motivation I ever had [for protecting gay children] was an article in Attitude magazine about centres in America to which young people are taken to cure them of homosexuality. These places torture people — they attach electrodes to their genitals and try to give them aversion therapy.
These places are inhumane, but they’re not illegal. In fact, when the kids run away, the police take them back.
The article hit George so hard that he contacted the writer, Tomas Mournian, and asked him to create a documentary based on the article. As Mournian recalled in a Huffington Post article,
I listened to George Michael describe how he’d read my article “Hiding Out” in a British magazine. I got out of bed and looked outside. It was dark and I wasn’t dreaming. George Michael really was telling me, “I was very moved by the story. I want to make a video.” He wanted to know: could I hook him up with the kids who’d escaped from gay-to-straight “hospitals” into an underground network of safe houses?
The short film that George Michael produced ( written by Tomas Mournian and directed by John Keitel) was played at the Equality Rocks in Washington D.C. on April 29, 2000 (read “When George Michael Produced a Documentary on Gay Teens”). Even though the documentary was met with lackluster reception – MTV refused to broadcast the video – George spending his time and resources to tell the world about the horrors of conversion therapy showed how deeply this issue affected him and how much he wanted to try to help these embattled youths.
George was most passionate about the well-being of young gays. He cared deeply about gay youth, who he pointed out were his incentive to continue to fight when his life was at its most turbulent:
However, this ruling would set back the gains so far achieved and will put in danger many LGBTQ+ kids subjected to the treatment. And that would most likely break George’s heart if he was alive today.
- When George Michael Produced a Documentary on Gay Teens
- George Michael: Unzipped (Marie Claire, 2004)
- George Michael’s Acts of Charity
- Review of George Michael’s A Different Story
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)