What would Thanksgiving be without family members freaking out about Donald Trump and Mike Pence taking away LGBTQ rights?
My friends and family have been concerned that he (Mike Pence) will be spearheading the war against gays, including advocating for gay conversion therapy, which, according to The Washington Post involves: “inducing vomiting and using mild electric shock while patients viewed homoerotic images”.
Mike Pence’s alleged support for conversion therapy was back in the news, after he was lectured while watching the Broadway show “Hamilton”.
A New York county lawmaker also recently introduced an ordinance that would ban conversion therapy for homosexual youths, called the Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Childhood Endangerment (PENCE) law.
Is it true that Mike Pence advocated for conversion therapy?
In this article I’ll share the origin of this story, how it spread, and what Mike Pence actually advocates.
Gavin Newsom and Politifact
Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, wrote an article in The Daily Beast titled: “Mike Pence—Conversion Therapy True Believer—Adds More Hate to Donald Trump’s GOP Fire”. He later spoke again on the issue at the Democratic National Convention. In the article, he wrote:
“For the first time in our presidential history, a major party candidate and a major party support child abuse, even child torture, as part of their platform…”
“…Even though he knew LGBT organizations were providing critical lifesaving HIV/AIDS services, he said they were promoting the homosexual lifestyle and that the federal government’s money would be better spent elsewhere.”
“…I draw the line when it comes to forcing a child into a treatment program that they don’t deserve, that won’t be effective, and exposes them to abuse and even torture that will haunt them for a lifetime.”
Politifact then stepped in to fact check; their conclusion read: “True: Mike Pence advocated for ‘conversion therapy’”.
According to Ahrefs (a SEO research site) this Politifact article has now been cited over 1,000 times by over 300 different websites, and according to Buzzsumo (a web content discovery tool) it was shared over forty-thousand times.
What Did Pence Really Say?
The Politifact article above, cited an archive of Mike Pence’s website from his first successful run for Congress in 2000 which said the following:
“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
As you can see, the above statement indicates that Mike Pence once supported diverting funding from organizations that “celebrate and encourage the behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus”; but not from organizations that help people with HIV/AIDS.
He supported directing those resources towards institutions “…which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” not towards “conversion therapy”.
However, it is from these two sentences that the mainstream media spun the idea of Pence’s “support for ‘conversion therapy’.
Take note that the language above includes “behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” and “change their sexual behavior”. There is evidence that Pence supported abstinence programs for preventing HIV and teen pregnancy, and I can certainly understand people having a disagreement with this position. However, he never advocated for “conversion therapy”, let alone forcing children into electroshock treatment.
Given how often I’ve read and heard this rumor, I expected to find videos and press releases of Pence explicitly stating his pro-conversion therapy position; instead, there was merely a web archive with some non-specific language.
The Media Frenzy
The truth hasn’t stopped the media from telling a “good” story.
In order to make the fear more visceral, The Washington Post published the following:
“In the past, treatments have included inducing vomiting and using mild electric shock while patients viewed homoerotic images.”
The article quotes only a snippet from Pence’s website and does not link to the archive of the website so that readers could get the full context.
The Huffington Post meanwhile, piled it on in an article titled “The Mike Pence (Donald Trump) Assault On LGBTQ Equality Is Already Underway”.
Queer Voices Editor-at-Large, Michelangelo Signorile, wrote:
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this at all. We are in for a full-blown assault on LGBTQ rights the likes of which many, particularly younger LGBTQ people, have not seen. Progress will most certainly be halted completely, likely rolled back. And it’s already underway.”
Signorile cited a Buzzfeed article (not the archive in Pence’s website) in attempt to substantiate his claim that Pence supported Conversion therapy. The Buzzfeed article quoted, and linked to the web archive of Pence’s old website but did not bother think critically about its meaning.
That Buzzfeed article has been cited over 1,000 times and shared over 80,000 times.
The Media’s Playbook Exposed
I disavow conversion therapy and I disavow electric shock therapy; I do not however, disavow criticizing the media where criticism is due.
The articles represented above, and the thousands of others just like them are Fake News in every sense of the phrase, this is sophistry at its “finest”.
The story that Mike Pence supported “conversion therapy” spread faster than a bad rumor in high school.
Meanwhile, the same pundits discount or outright ignore the pro-LGBT statements Trump and his team have made; and now, lawmakers are going as far as to name a law banning conversion therapy after Mike Pence – even though he never advocated for conversion therapy – further cementing this fallacy in the minds of the public, and spreading this fake news.
This post was written by Mike Fishbein.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.
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