Mat Staver and Robert Otto
Hate Group Leader Mat Staver and Conversion crackpot Robert W. Otto | screen capture via Rumble
Practitioners of conversion therapy are unethical per se.

Wednesday, in a new email pitch, Hate Group Leader Mat Staver is promoting conversion “therapy.”

On April 11, Staver (head of Liberty Counsel) appeared on an Orlando Christian Cable channel with Robert W. Otto who is a practitioner of conversion “therapy.” Staver’s assumption, or his projected assumption, is that sexual orientation and gender identity conversion efforts are safe and effective.

Some uncertainty presents itself. Does Mat Staver actually believe that sexual change efforts are safe and effective? In the alternative, is he merely trying to convince others that the practice is safe and effective?

In the way of background, in 2018 Otto, represented by Liberty Counsel, sued Palm Beach to nullify its conversion therapy ban. It lost at trial but won on appeal to the conservative 11th Circuit in November, 2020.

The 11th Circuit ruled that counseling is speech. in 2014, the Third Circuit, in a nearly identical case (also lawyered by Liberty Counsel), ruled that counseling is professional speech and, thus, not protected by the First Amendment.

The legal status is irrelevant. Every mainstream medical and counseling professional organization has concluded that conversion therapy is both futile and harmful.

There is no scientific basis for conversion therapy. What is particularly troubling is that the purveyors of this pseudoscience are now claiming that they can cure gender dysphoria by aligning a patient’s gender with their natal sex.

In other words they are offering gender identity conversion “therapy.” Research out of Harvard Medical School (peer reviewed and published to the Journal of the American Medical Association) has determined that exposure to gender identity conversion efforts creates a lifetime of adverse mental health consequences.

Robert W. Otto did not attend Harvard Medical School. He has a PhD from the barely respectable Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Otto couldn’t care less about scientific research.

Otto would likely claim that he is not trying to change anyone’s sexual orientation. In contrast he would say that he is “helping” youth diminish their “same-sex attractions” in order to prevent them from engaging in sinful behavior.

Otto cannot make a similar assertion for gender identity conversion efforts. People cannot be talked out of their gender dysphoria. While most youth grow out of the condition, persistence is a function of severity. About 2% of children and adolescents have some discomfort due to gender dysphoria. Yet only a fourth of those will transition. They become transgender because they are the most acutely affected.

There is absolutely nothing that Robert W. Otto can do to influence the severity of the condition which, according to the Endocrine Society, has a biological basis. People who engage in pseudoscience are often called “charlatans.”

An assumption that conversion therapy actually works

According to Staver’s email:

Imagine fighting for the right to help today’s youth hold on to their biblical values despite the growing social pressures they face. Imagine having to fight for the right to counsel adolescents and teens through a confusing time in their life. Has government overstepped its role when it enters the privacy of a counseling session? Meet Dr. Robert Otto, a licensed counselor who helps struggling minors with gender confusion and unwanted same-sex attraction. Watch as Dr. Robert Otto shares about his battle with his city and county.

Dr. Otto is not a victim. The patients he has misled are victims. Furthemore, conversion therapy doesn’t help anyone. Conversion therapy is based on the premise that a sexual orientation or a gender identity that conservative Christian disapprove of is evil simply due to the disapproval of religious zealots.

Moreover, there is nothing “confusing” about sexual orientation and gender identity. Effective, reputable counseling allows an adolescent to explore their sexuality. Counseling is never supposed to be judgmental. Conversionists are very judgmental, essentially shaming their patients into religious compliance.

The government has not “entered … the privacy of a counseling session.” Staver’s claim is rhetorical. A government ban on an ineffective and harmful practice is an appropriate use of governmental authority when that practice is inflicted upon minors.

Minors cannot provide informed consent. I haven’t done a formal study but I would bet that the vast majority of adolescents who are subjected to sexual orientation/gender identity conversion efforts have been coerced into dealing with crackpots like Robert W. Otto. I would bet that Otto is treating mostly involuntary patients and that constitutes child abuse. That is also, in my option, unethical.

In, fact, a New Jersey jury concluded that conversion therapy amounts to consumer fraud.

For that matter, any form of counseling that is not in conformity with evidence-based medical science is unethical per se. Christian groups, including the Catholic Church certainly have the funds to research conversion efforts. Yet, they have not. Is it possible that they have not investigated the issue because they are afraid of the outcome?

There is no research to even suggest that conversion therapy is safe and effective. “Research” means peer-reviewed articles published to reputable academic journals. In February 2007, the American Psychological Association (APA) established the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation.

According to the APA at the time the best outcome from conversion therapy was enabling gay people to pretend that they are straight.

Robert W. Otto has never released records of how many people he has treated and what their downstream outcomes were. Anecdotally, there seem to be far — far — more ex-ex-gays than ex-gays. I doubt that he does the follow-up that would be required. Otto knows that any real investigation would yield dismal results.

Conversion therapy is promoted by religious fanatics (zealous Christians and Jews) in an attempt to prove that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices. Therefore sexuality is not an immutable characteristic. Therefore, according to those same zealots, sexual orientation and gender identity are not deserving of protection under nondiscrimination laws.

Presumably, Robert W. Otto is a conservative Christian. He is possibly blinded by his faith to the scientific realities of sexual orientation and gender identity. That behavior constitutes willful incuriosity and it does not give him a pass. A behavioral health specialist should be held to a higher standard.

There is a cure for Otto’s condition. It is called “reading reading articles published to respected academic journals relating to behavioral health.” Otto is making a choice not to accept medical science. His religious beliefs are also a choice.

Robert W. Otto has not been victimized by the system. As I said he is a victimizer. Otto is actually undermining family values because youth are forced to lie to their coercive parents. Eventually the lies will unravel but the dishonesty destroys familial trust.

Real therapists tell the truth. The truth is that there is no evidence that sexual orientation and gender identity can be influence by talk therapy. Parents do themselves and their offspring a terrible disservice by subjecting kids to these efforts.

By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.