“Gay Exorcisms”: Free Exercise of Religion, or Child Abuse?

June 8, 2010


Articles in Details Magazine and in Boston Edge report that many Pentacostal and Evangelical churches across the United States practice "exorcism rituals" aimed at driving out demons thought to cause homosexuality.  What defenders of the practice call the "free exercise of religion" may amount to child abuse.  Many who undergo exorcisms to "cure" homosexuality are minors; many of the ritual’s aspects appear to be forms of psychological and physical abuse.

Joanne Highley of L.I.F.E. Ministry, who performs gay exorcisms, told Details that her rituals force evil spirits "out of genitals, of course out of anal canals, out of intestines, out of throats and mouths if there’s been ungodly deposit of semen in those areas," so that vomiting or diarrhea is seen as a physically manifestation of evil. 

Last year a video of an exorcism performed on a 16-year old gay teenager in Bridgeport, Connecticut, appeared on YouTube. In it, a pastor and several church members press on the boy’s stomach with their hands and feet until he vomits. Critics reported the episode to Connecticut’s department of children and families, but the controversy passed when the boy later declared that he was unharmed and no longer gay. But critics say events of this kind are not isolated incidents. Kamora Herrington, mentoring-program director of a non-profit organization called True Colors, says that "At least once or twice a month I get a call from someone who’s been exorcised.  And no one wants to believe this is happening in beautiful, genteel Connecticut." 

Details also reports on Vincent Cervantes, who was subjected to an exorcism ritual by two men, but whose attraction to men remained unchanged. Cervantes told Details the psychological toll he suffered was unbearable: "I felt I had failed God . . . Nothing, not even an exorcism, can fix me. In my mind I was going to go to hell. I became very suicidal. I absolutely hated myself."

Details noted, "As many of these ‘exorcism’ abuses are inflicted upon children, some have demanded that the government intervene. But child welfare agencies and prosecutors have cited freedom of religion protections and have done nothing."  As of now, there appear to be no legal cases in the United States challenging gay exorcism.