Will & Grace’s Thursday night episode, “Grandpa Jack” dealt with some pretty heavy themes. For those who haven’t seen it, Jack finds out that his son, Elliott, has a child and that is actually a grandfather when his grandson, Skip, shows up at Will and Grace’s front door looking for him.
After finding out that his grandson sits in the very gay “pajama party” position and loves Lady Gaga, Jack is excited to have something in common with his progeny, especially since he lost contact with Elliott after he married a conservative Texan. However, things take a turn when he learns that Elliott and his wife are sending Skip to “Camp Straighten Narrow” to “fix” him.
The show does its best to camp up the “pray the gay away camp,” and even brings in out actors Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells to play the camp’s clearly-still-gay-but-ex-gay counselors. But, underneath the thickly-laid layer of laughter is an ugly truth: conversion therapy, and conversion camps are still an ugly reality in America.
In 2015, the Southern Poverty Law Center told USA Today that there are 70 known practitioners of conversion therapy in America, though the number could be much higher since the practitioners move around a lot. As the SPLC writes, the practice varies from practitioner to practitioner, but it is traumatizing and discredited by virtually every medical and psychological association.
Aside from general practitioners, there also camps like the ones depicted on Will & Grace, though they’re decidedly less funny. Earlier this year, 20/20 dedicated an entire horrifying episode to conversion therapy. They descended on Blessed Hope Boys Academy of Alabama, where pastor William Knotts gave journalists and cameramen a less-than-Christian welcome.
In April, New Mexico became the 7th state to ban the harmful practice. That same month, Democratic lawmakersintroduced a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to classify professionals who offer conversion therapy as fraudulent.
“There’s no medical condition known as being gay,” representative Ted Lieu told the Washington Post at the time. “LGBTQ people were born perfect; there is nothing to treat them for. And by calling this what it should be, which is fraud, it would effectively shut down most of the organizations.”
After the bill debuted, some conservatives pivoted and tried to rebrand conversion therapy as “Christian counseling,” and painted the bill as attacking their religious ideology and “Bible-based counseling.”
Earlier this week in England, BuzzFeed reported, the Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a statement acknowledging the harms that reparative therapy has wrought on the LGBTQ community.
“We hold our hands up,” the organization said in a statement.
“There are no words that can repair the damage done to anyone who has ever been deemed ‘mentally unwell’ simply for loving a person of the same sex,” Professor Wendy Burn, president of the RCP, wrote in the statement. “For those who were then ‘treated’ using non-evidence based procedures by mental health professionals up until as late as the 1970s, the trauma of such experiences can never be erased.”
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