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Rights group questions ethics of religious outreach to gay teens

MIAMI (AP) _ A national gay and lesbian group is accusing several religious organizations of harming homosexual teens by offering parents what they say are bogus therapies to keep children from becoming gay.

In a report released Thursday in Miami Beach, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute questioned whether the therapies are ethical or effective and said state and federal authorities should provide greater oversight when these programs are aimed at youth.

The report said some Christian-based gay prevention and treatment groups have used the First Amendment protection of religion to avoid sanctions by state health officials seeking to enforce regulations on counselors who offer therapy without a license.

Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said officials need to ensure that those offering such therapies are licensed _ as opposed to simply being clergy _ and that clients and their parents should be informed about the programs' long-term success rates.

``Many of these programs are crossing the line as to what is approved under freedom of expression,'' Foreman said in an interview with reporters. ``This deserves attention. It deserves to be regulated.''

The report was released in Florida because it is home to Exodus International, the umbrella organization for Christian ministries nationwide that seek to convert gays to heterosexuals.

Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, said he had not seen the report but maintained that the ministries are successful. He said Exodus' 130 affiliated ministries use clinically trained professionals, though he added that only 30 percent have onsite professionals.

Religious leaders lead support groups, as they might in the case of an Alcoholics Anonymous groups, he said.

``The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of men and women like me who have found that change is possible,'' said Chambers, who counts himself among the ex-gay.

The report maintains that, increasingly, those attending seminars on homosexuality prevention and treatment are parents who have gay or lesbian children.

Foreman called the programs frightening, saying they play into stereotypes, cautioning parents to worry if their sons are ``too feminine'' and often blame parents for their children's sexual orientation.

Foreman said he would like to see more long-term studies on the success of the treatment.
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