McDermott and The Mattachine Society of Washington, DC Unveil Untold Legal and Political History of Attempts to “Cure” Homosexuality

Overview


McDermott Will & Emery, in collaboration with pro bono client The Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, has released a comprehensive new white paper report on the legal and political history of conversion therapy in the United States and efforts to “cure” homosexuality since the middle of the 20th century. Written by a team of 15 McDermott lawyers, “The Pernicious Myth of Conversion Therapy: How Love In Action Perpetrated a Fraud on America” offers a case study of the faith-based ministry Love in Action and its litigation against the state of Tennessee.

“The work of The Mattachine Society continues to grow in importance as LGBT rights remain under assault and true equality before society and the law remains out of reach,” said McDermott partner Lisa A. Linsky, the architect of the report. “McDermott is extremely proud to contribute to The Mattachine Society’s mission of archive activism, which strives to prevent America from repeating the most appalling errors of our recent history. It is our hope that by documenting and articulating the stories of those impacted by conversion therapy – as well as the structures that allowed it – we can catalyze meaningful change and bring an end to these injurious practices.”

“This report is a sweeping history of attempts to ‘cure’ people of their homosexuality, from the 1940s to today’s religious conversion therapy practitioners such as the now-defunct Love in Action ministry,” said Charles Francis, president of The Mattachine Society of Washington, DC. “Preserving and publicizing the legal historical context of these practices and the devastating impact on LGBT individuals and their families is critical to ongoing discussions about social justice and civil rights in the US. With state and federal lawmakers currently drafting legislation around conversion therapy and public discourse on LGBT rights seeming to grow more contentious, this work could not be more relevant or significant.”

The report is the culmination of a two-year collaboration between The Mattachine Society and McDermott that was inspired by the life of Garrard Conley, whose memoir Boy Erased documents his experience in a conversion therapy program run by a faith-based ministry called Love in Action (LIA). Following a meeting with Conley in 2016, The Mattachine Society committed to uncovering the full story of LIA. With McDermott, they collected a number of primary source documents, including statements by the Reverend John J. Smid, the former Director of LIA in Tennessee, obtained during two interviews; documents from 2005, when Tennessee state agencies sought to regulate LIA to protect young people involved in the ministry; and materials from a lawsuit brought by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of LIA.

The resulting report includes:

  • Section I: Stigmatization of homosexuality by the medical establishment, federal, state, and local governments, and popular culture, including labeling it a mental illness in need of treatment to “cure” individuals
  • Section II: The rise of LIA and the events leading to its eventual demise
  • Section III: The re-emergence of conversion therapy today, including its role in the larger debate over equality and renewed support from the conservative fundamentalist leaders and organizations in particular
  • Appendix: State-by-state chart demonstrating the status of conversion therapy laws and bans on such practices

For the past six years, McDermott and The Mattachine Society have joined together on a mission of archive activism to investigate and disclose historical evidence of unconstitutional animus and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. McDermott’s pro bono team has filed numerous FOIA requests in an effort to uncover the often deleted political histories of LGBT Americans who faced persecution and discrimination in all branches of the Federal Government. In 2017, McDermott won its summary judgment filed against the United States Department of Justice, compelling disclosure of many of these previously unseen documents. In its role as pro bono counsel to The Mattachine Society, McDermott also filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges and the consolidated same-sex marriage cases.

This ongoing partnership with The Mattachine Society is indicative of the Firm’s commitment to giving back to the communities of which it is a part and to assist those who are unable to afford legal services. The Firm offers a comprehensive pro bono and community service program managed and led by its full-time pro bono counsel and the chair of our the Pro Bono & Community Service Committee, which seeks to ensure that the same standards of quality, service and care that McDermott gives to its paying clients are also afforded to those it serves on a pro bono basis. The Firm strongly encourages its lawyers and staff to participate in pro bono initiatives, volunteer services and charitable activities. For more about McDermott’s commitment to social responsibility, please see our website.

The McDermott team who contributed to this report includes: Sam Ashworth, Paul DeStefano, Noah Feldman, Irene Firippis, Lisa Gerson, Mary Hallerman, Britt Haxton, Ana Koff, Alex Lee, Ryan Leske, Lisa A. Linsky, Anisa Mohanty, Sam C. Neel, Mike Stanek, and Paul Thompson.