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He Survived Conversion Therapy. Now, He Wants To Make Sure No One Else Has To

“I knew I was different pretty early on, probably when I was about five years old.” – Nathan Dalley (Photo by: Christina Giardinelli | Daily Utah Chronicle)


University of Utah student Nathan Dalley grew up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Orem, Utah. He knew that he was not like most of his peers from a young age, however. “I knew I was different pretty early on, probably when I was about five years old,” he said to The Daily Utah Chronicle in an interview.  

Dalley said that when he was 11 he realized that he might like boys. When he put this to the test, he was sure of it. “After I kissed a few girls, I realized that it was definitely not for me,” he said.

The U student said that he didn’t immediately come out to his friends and family about his sexual orientation. “I just tried not to think about it,”  he said, adding that, “I had been taught my whole life that being LGBTQ was a sin, that marriage is between a man and a woman and I felt a lot of shame surrounding my sexual orientation.”

At the time, Dalley thought that because he is gay he only had two options — “Either be celibate for life or marry a woman and have kids and a family.” He said it wasn’t until later on in life that he figured out that he also had the option to come out and be who he really is. Dalley explained that he never thought mixed-orientation marriages were fair to the other partner because he said he believes that “everyone deserves to be loved fully” and that “part of that love is to be desired.” For this reason, at the time, he believed that his only choice was celibacy.


Dealing with the Shame

After confessing to his bishop that he had watched gay porn, Dalley said he was given a pamphlet extracted from a sermon by Boyd K. Packer, the late president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Originally published in 1980, the pamphlet “To Young Men Only” was discontinued by the church in 2016. The pamphlet, which was intended to provide information about sexual maturation to young male teens, was heavily criticized for allegedly encouraging physical assault on gay men.

During the speech that the pamphlet was based on, the late President Packer spoke about one occasion when a missionary confessed to physically assaulting his companion. Packer described his response to the missionary, saying “somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.”

Packer did not specify the actions which lead the missionary to allegedly assault his companion. The context that the story is based on, however, indicates that it may have been due to an unwanted advance. Earlier in the sermon, Packer tells young men to defend themselves against those who “entice young men to join [LGBTQ men] in these immoral [homosexual] acts.”

FairMormon, a non-profit dedicated to providing documented answers to criticism of the church, said in response to accusations surrounding the pamphlet, This story is about a missionary who wanted an unwilling companion in a compromised position to join him in homosexual activity, not about a companion who simply confessed that he was gay.” The non-profit goes on to say that the “companion’s” alleged actions were “at the least sexual harassment and at the most attempted rape.”  

Although Dalley does not fault ecclesiastical leaders for this, he said a big part of the shame that he felt for being gay was because of what had been purported as church doctrine.

“I don’t think that the person that gave [the pamphlet] to me had malicious intent,” Dalley said. “I do think that they believe that the only form of happiness can come from being a member of the church.” Dalley added that at the time he also believed that.

The shame eventually led Dalley to alienate himself from his peers. “My ninth grade year of school, I really started to isolate myself because I didn’t want anyone to find out that I was gay, so I didn’t really talk at school and I made sure that I didn’t have many friends. I would eat alone.”

The isolation and shame led to depression and anxiety, which eventually pushed Dalley to seek help. “I really wanted to fit in with my community and to believe [in the teachings of the church],” he said, adding that although he wasn’t searching for conversion therapy he “knew [he] needed help because [he] was experiencing a lot of serious depression and suicidal ideation.”


Therapy or Abuse?

“I knew I couldn’t get help from adults around me, so I asked to go to therapy,” said Dalley. The U student said that the licensed therapist his parents chose was a referral from his bishop. He recounted that on the first session, after the therapist asked why he was there, he said, “I have depression and I’m gay.” The therapist responded, “Those are things that we can fix.”

Referring to what he termed “the abuse” that followed, Dalley said, “I don’t like the term ‘conversion therapy.’ Therapy is something that is supposed to help you and allow you to express yourself healthfully and this doesn’t do so.”

What followed was around five months of talk therapy that attempted to change his sexual orientation and identity. According to Dalley, during “the first part of the practice, the therapist suggested that my parents take away my phone so that way I did not have access to the internet and porn.” Dalley explained that although he only looked at gay porn once or twice a month, his therapist and family believed he had an addiction.

“Conflating watching porn a few times a month with an addiction is simply wrong, it doesn’t fit the definition of addiction,” Dalley said. This type of erroneous diagnosis is commonly given to LGBTQ people because, Dalley said, “Our sexuality or gender identity is associated with sexual addiction.” Dalley said that although some people do suffer from sexual addiction, the diagnosis “should not be based off of sexuality or gender identity — it should be based off of a genuine addiction.”

Dalley said that taking away his phone only served to further isolate him from his peers. He began seeing the therapist in the summer when he was not in school. Academia had been his saving grace because it was where he excelled and — after he came out — where he had a support system of peers who encouraged him to be who he was.

Over that summer, Dalley said his entire life consisted of church, work, reading and attending sessions with the therapist. As part of her attempts to change his sexual orientation, Dalley said the therapist encouraged him to act more manly. “I was told I need to dress more masculine, talk with a more masculine voice, walk more masculine and not cross my legs. Play sports, be aggressive.”

Additionally, Dalley said his therapist told him he should wear a rubber band around his wrist and snap it every time he had a “homosexual thought.” He said, “Sometimes my skin would break by the end of the day because I was snapping it so much.”

The negative effects of the abuse still affect Dalley’s life. “I still think, how does my voice sound?” he said, adding that “I have a really hard time with food. I associated eating and gaining weight with a more masculine body type. Because of that, food started making me really anxious and it still does sometimes.”

Attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity has been pronounced unethical by both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. A study published by the Journal of Homosexuality in 2015 found that LGBTQ people who had been subjected to conversion therapy were three times more likely to attempt suicide.

Dalley said that the effects of the practice almost killed him. After trying to overdose on sleeping pills, Dalley woke up the next morning and thought “it wasn’t a big deal” because “that type of abuse had shamed me and validated the shame that I already had to the point that I believed that my life didn’t matter.”

Dalley’s experience as a survivor of conversion therapy has led him to advocate against it. During the past legislative session, Dalley testified at the Utah state capitol on a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors. The bill ultimately failed to pass, but Dalley is not throwing in the towel. He said, “We are going to keep coming back year after year until it’s passed.”  

After the bill failed to pass — it was gutted and replaced with a version that allowed talk therapy to continue and only banned practices that were physically abusive — Dalley participated in a sit-in at the capitol. The act of protest took place outside Gov. Gary Herbert’s office, where LGBTQ youth demanded an apology from Herbert for supporting the bill’s substitute.

Although the group did receive a written apology, it is not enough. He said, “I appreciate that [the governor and administration] have apologized for supporting a bill that protects conversion therapy, but they have lost my trust and I will accept their apology when I see some action on their words.”

This article is part of the Poynter College Media Project. Click here for more stories and information on the topic “Are U Mormon?”

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    Barbara RamosApr 10, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks for writing such a fantastic article. It was engaging, well researched, and well written. I’ve read tons of articles from the Chronicle (I was an editor there), and the quality of your article really stands out. Thanks for caring about writing, the U, and the content of your stories.