'Conversion therapy' survivor shares dangers of the practice

Born Perfect co-founder Mathew Shurka shares his experiences with "conversion therapy" and describes risks it poses to LGBTQ community members after Wisconsin lawmakers lifted a ban on the practice.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

January 20, 2023

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A ban on so-called conversion therapy has been lifted in Wisconsin. Republican majority members on a legislative committee blocked licensing rules banning therapy designed to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Lawmakers lifted the ban despite conversion therapy being deemed harmful, ineffective and non-evidence based by the state’s examining board of therapists and counselors.

“What makes it so harmful is that you are trying to change something that is not changeable,” Said Mathew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect.

Shurka shared his story of conversion therapy as a cautionary tale.

“A lot of parents really are being duped in a way,” said Shurka, including his own.

“They wanted to speak to a licensed professional who could guide them as parents and myself as a young man,” Shurka said.

“It’s about protecting consumers from harm, so that they’re not paying money and thinking that they’re getting a legitimate therapy or treatment, and actually what they’re getting is something that has no therapeutic value and is actively harmful,” said state Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, about the ban previously in place.

Starting when he was 16, Shurka and his family spent five years and $35,000 to be told a litany of reasons why he wasn’t normal.

“The first steps in my diagnosis was that I was not allowed to speak to my mother and two sisters, which lasted three years,” Shurka said. “Someone who’s in a professional setting is just like pulling irresponsibly these diagnoses that I have to explain or try to rationalize that what I’m experiencing is not real.”

Survey data from the Trevor Project found that 44% of LGBTQ youth in Wisconsin seriously considered suicide in the past year. Those who underwent conversion therapy, or warned of the possibility, were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.

“I think this is where the suicidality comes in” Shurka said. “This is where the running away from home — is that every LGBT person I’ve ever spoken to knows they never changed.”

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