ABC’s What Would You Do? Tests Viewers’ Reactions To Reparative Therapy

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Friday night’s episode of What Would You Do, ABC’s version of Candid Camera with a side of Ethics 101, posed a question to both diners in a restaurant and viewers at home: If you saw a teenager being unwillingly coerced into reparative therapy, would you step in?The show’s producers hired actors to play a gay teen and a religious counselor promising to help him “pray away the gay,”  and had them act out a scenario in a Stacks Pancake House in Paramus, NJ.  Cameras then captured the various responses from diners.

Watch the entire episode here.

It’s not the first time the show has addressed gay issues. In previous scenarios, a gay couple was asked to leave a restaurant by a bigot waiter, a father verbally attacked his gay son and a queer teens was bullying by other kids.

What Would You Do  has shown everyday (presumably straight) people stepping in when gays and lesbians are being discriminated against, and for that its producers should be commended. And the premise of seeing how people react to such situations is an interesting one.

But we’re troubled by the show asking viewers how they feel about reparative therapy. A poll on the WWYD website asks if  you would “intervene if you saw a gay teen being pressured into reparative therapy meant to change his sexual orientation.”

The possible responses are:

a. Yes, there’s nothing wrong with being gay.

b. No, I think such counseling is a good idea.

c. No, it’s none of my business.

Thankfully, the vast majority of voters chose “a,” but we don’t appreciate having our health, safety and well-being being decided on on by random uninformed members of the public. It’s bad enough when it happens in the voting booth.

The bottom line is reparative therapy isn’t an ethical issue—it’s a scientific one. And objective scientific data has proven it’s about as legitimate a treatment as ground rhino horn.

Photos: ABC, Truth Wins Out

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  • Mischiefwolf

    I must disagree with this statement:
    “The bottom line is reparative therapy isn’t an ethical issue . . .”

    Reparative therapy is an ethical issue. One of the reasons that both APAs have come out against it is that it violates the ethical code for psychologists and psychiatrists. In the case of psychologists and counselors bound by the APA code of ethics* reparative therapy violates all five principles. In the case of psychiatrists, who are bound by the AMA code** reparative therapy violates principles I, V, and VIII. An argument could be made that such “therapies” also violate principle II.


  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    Mischiefwolf is right, the practice of reparative therapy is ALL about ethics!

    Whether any condition and medical treatment is sound, certainly, are matters of science, testing and evaluating. The only way to determine effectiveness is to pursue a scientific review.

    However, once the scientific review is completed, it becomes a matter of the ethical practice of medicine, to follow the guidelines of the approved treatments.

    Certainly, continued testing and refinement are necessary; if not, both APAs would not have evolved their listings of homosexuality (and bi and trans) as mental defects.

    In the case of reparative therapy though, not only are those who use reparative therapy breaking the codes of ethics regarding treatment, they are also dismissing both APAs findings that homosexuality is not a mental defect. Twice they ignore the professional understanding of sexuality and the ethical practice of medicine.

    Ethics is about doing the right thing; torturing gay kids into denying their sexual identity is immoral and unethical.

  • hyhybt

    The use of rhino horn, at least, is merely ineffective rather than harmful (except to the rhino population, of course.)

  • Dmitriy

    Wow I’m just totally shocked that the muslims agree.

  • Caliban

    I guess these shows do have a positive effect by “modelling” people coming to the defense of gay people threatened by homophobia, but watching them makes me very very uncomfortable. (In fact I haven’t watched this one, though I’ve seen other WWYD? segments.) I can’t help but think how tense and angry I’d be as a witness to one of these psycho-dramas and how furious I’d be when I found out it was staged, basically for entertainment though with a debatable social benefit.

    I think I WOULD step in because I’ve done so in the past when it wasn’t fake, but in those instances the emotion that moved me from complacency to action was rage. I would NOT be calm, I’d be cursing like a drunken sailor and you can bet your ass I’d have a weapon in my hand (in a restaurant setting a fork, knife, or something heavy) just in case it was needed after I told the asshole to back the fuck off. IMO it’s irresponsible to inflame people’s emotions this way because you can’t predict how they’ll react.

  • Cam

    Wait….you mean Ground Rhino Horn DOESN’T work?!?!

  • Dallas David

    From a legal point of view, is it considered child abuse to subject your kids to Reparative Therapy?

  • The Bony Man

    @Dallas David: It certainly should be.

  • christopher di spirito

    Paramus, NJ? Too bad ABC didn’t pose the question in Salt Lake City, UT, Boise, ID or Lubbock, TX. I’m sure the response would have been very different.

  • the crustybastard

    @Dallas David:

    This is America, where it isn’t child abuse to fail to immunize your own kids against lethal and/or crippling contagions.

    In fact, the less rational the decision (with religious motivations representing near maximum irrationality), the more deference the legal system grants that decision. Yes, that is nuts. Yes, it’s because religious people made the rules, and they adamantly believe their irrational notions deserve our “respect” and afford them special legal privileges.

    I talk to an invisible zombie!

    Well then, go right ahead and brainwash your kids into a self-loathing dissociative state.

  • cwm

    @Caliban: yeah, I mean TV could do worse than to raise important social issues with a mostly-positive slant. But the whole ‘watch what happens in real time, as audiences respond to our artificially enacted scenario’ aspect? I agree it’s irresponsible.

    But it’s consistent with television programming’s usual assumption of low intelligence among viewers. Why does the concept have to be shoehorned into a “reality show” format? It wouldn’t have become a show in the first place, otherwise. Seems a fair assumption: anyone working for these networks will be punished for suggesting original ideas. “We can’t do that; our audience demographic wouldn’t be expecting it.”

  • Shannon1981

    @Dallas David: No.I went to one of those camps. Not illegal at all. Protected under religious practice.

  • cwm

    @Shannon1981: Minors are barely citizens; parental rights nearly always trump what few are possessed by kids, no matter how oppressive the situation.

    If I recall, you’re knowledgeable and active in assisting young people to escape difficult family environments: without sabotaging their own futures in the process. Perhaps now I’m beginning to understand–in some small way–why you’d be drawn to such challenging and important work.

    Sorry if what I’m saying seems presumptuous. But I’m glad you’ve stayed strong and maintained a positive self-image. I had a friend who was subjected to similar emotional abuse masquerading as therapy, and he took his own life.

  • Shannon1981

    @cwm:Oh no, not presumptuous at all! And I just wrote the Community Initiatives Director at GLSEN. I want it to become a full fledged 501c3 that works right alongside DSS psychiatric professionals to prove that abuse is going on in this arena.

    And thank you. Yeah, theoretically, I should be dead, too. Tried 6 times, just didn’t know what I was doing. Luckily, back then, the firearms were locked up.

  • B

    No. 4 · Dmitriy wrote, “Wow I’m just totally shocked that the muslims agree.”

    They seemed to agree reluctantly – the Muslim mom thought the parents just wanted to have grandchildren and help their kid, and the Muslim dad thought the teenager might have been reacting to being dumped by a girlfriend. If you listen to what they actually said, they came across as being sympathetic to the teenager’s (fake) parents. They didn’t act like they wanted anyone to be flogged or executed as the authorities might do in Saudi Arabia or Iran. I’d put the Muslim family in the “ignorant on this subject but not malicious” category.

    Was the “pray away the gay” guy real or was he also an actor? The video indicated that the teenager was an actor, so his “parents” had to be actors too, but the “pray away the gay” character could be either – a real one or another actor.

    The poll probably asked the wrong questions. People are more likely to tell the “pray away the gay” guy that he is an idiot while the teenager was not there – people expect a hostile reaction if you try to interfere with parents who think they are protecting their child. So, the responses are going to depend to some extent on a guess as to the situation – talking to the “therapist” versus to the “therapist”, victim, and the victim’s parents all at once.

  • Jake

    @Dmitriy: Did you miss the part where the Muslim teenage boy disagreed with his parents? The problem isn’t Muslims, the problem is homophobia.

  • Dmitriy


    Yes it’s just a coincidence that almost every country where being gay is a crime, is also muslim.

Comments are closed.