NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, April 9, 2015, 6:08 PM
Samuel Brinton received an award from the United Nations last year and has been advocating against conversion therapy since he was a college student.
Samuel Brinton could teach a class about the so-called gay conversion therapy. Some people call it psychiatric treatment, but he and others say it’s nothing more than abuse.
Brinton, a 27-year-old gay nuclear scientist with a rebellious red mohawk, can talk about the aha moment he had in college, during a road trip in Kansas, when he realized that the horrifying tales he heard from his childhood therapist were nothing more than a fabrication, made up to scare him straight.
Brinton had undergone electroshock treatment and had ice and hot copper coils bound to his hands while being forced to look at pictures of men touching each other.
“I became extremely suicidal and malnourished,” Brinton told the Daily News. “I was terrified of touching other men, even hugs. Because of it, I would eventually say I had changed to try to save my life.”
Brinton calls himself a “survivor,” but others were less fortunate. The story of Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life at age 17 after she was forced into conversion therapy to “cure” her of being a transgender woman, has become the symbolic narrative of the campaign to ban the practice.
Petitioners called for a law to ban conversion therapy, naming it after 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio who took her own life after being forced to go through therapy.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,” said Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, responding to a petition signed by more than 120,000 supporters of the law.
Obama is supportive of “Leelah’s Law,” which would require Congressional approval to ban conversion therapy, but a quicker strategy relies on getting states to pass their own measures.
The therapies targeted at gay children have already been banned in California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.
The San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights is pushing for similar legislation in states like Colorado, Florida, Minnesota and Nevada with a campaign called BornPerfect that strives for a complete shutout of conversion therapies by 2019.
President Obama’s support is a boon to the nonprofit’s advocacy, explained senior attorney Samantha Ames.
“There’s nothing quite as meaningful as the President of the United States telling an LGBT kid that you matter and that you were born perfect,” Ames told The News.
The most dangerous of the techniques — which once included such therapeutic strategies as administering electroshock to a person’s genitals — have fallen out of favor, but equally harmful methods still exist, Ames warns.
“The danger lies in not just the method, but the goal sought: To change the core of who someone is, and to tell them that if they cannot change, it is through their own fault.”
Seeing the White House join the battle was the “defintion of validation,” Brinton said.
After learning he wasn’t the last gay man on Earth, Samuel went to his first Pride Week in 2011.
Enlarge Courtesy Samuel Brinton
Samuel hasn’t seen his family much since college, but his mother supported him at his MIT graduation in June 2014.
Samuel Brinton, pictured with his sister and baby brother, as an 11-year-old before starting gay conversion therapy requested by his parents.
As the son of conservative Southern Baptist missionaries, he moved 26 times during his childhood, experiencing life in far-flung places like Bolivia and Singapore as well as small towns in Kansas, Iowa and Florida.
The latter locale was where he got his first glimpse of his sexuality, when the youngsters crowded around to gawk at an old Playboy magazine they found near the mission.
When he told his parents he did not see the appeal of the nudie pictures and revealed his feelings for another boy, the father threw a punch that landed Brinton, who was then 11, in the hospital.
That’s when the therapy began.
Brinton carried the belief through adolescence, instilled by a therapist, that he was the world’s only gay man, that he had AIDS and that the government had killed anybody else who ever called themselves gay.
“If you’re not looking for it and you live in an extremely limited community, you can truly believe that you’re it,” he said.
It wasn’t until that road trip in Kansas, when a female friend invited him to try vegan food with her girlfriend, that Brinton began to understand that he had been brainwashed.
“The word that caught my attention was girlfriend,” said Brinton, who only came to grasp what it really meant to be gay by binging on shows like “Will & Grace” and “Queer as Folk.”
He now lives in Washington, D.C., where he works at an energy policy think tank and uses his story to raise awareness of the controversial psychiatric practices.
He says he rarely sees his family, but his mom attended his graduation last spring when he finished his master’s degree at MIT.
“They’re not happy I’m talking about what happened,” he said, though he knows they still love him and says he has forgiven them.
“They thought they were changing their child for the better,” he said. “They didn’t realize I was OK just the way I am.”