FACT-CHECK: Did Ógra Fianna Fáil get it wrong about Mike Pence and gay conversion therapy?
CLAIM: Ógra Fianna Faíl tweeted that the U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence, was in favour of gay conversion therapy.
On August 5th Ógra Fianna Fáíl, the youth wing of one of the largest political parties in Ireland, tweeted that the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was in favour of gay conversion therapy.
They made the claim as part of an attack directed at Irish students who had attended a mainstream conservative conference for young people in Washington, organised by Young America’s Foundation.
Vice-President Pence had addressed the conference. His speech did not address or make any mention of conversion therapy.
What is gay conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy is the name given to attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation. The American Psychiatric Association in May 2000 issued a position statement saying it opposed any such psychiatric treatment which was based upon “the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation”.
Has Pence ever said he supports this therapy?
There is no record of Mike Pence saying he supported this therapy, either before or after he became Vice President. Both the Washington Post and Snopes who previously carried out fact checks of similar claims, have found the claims were untrue. Snopes, which is widely perceived as left-liberal leaning, acknowledged that “Pence never stated that he supported the use of electric shocks or “gay conversion” therapy.”
They rated that claim as FALSE
Snopes did raise the issue of a Pence campaign website for a 2000 Congressional race having made the following statement:
“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.”
Critics of the Vice President claim this phrase in particular – “seeking to change their sexual behaviour” – was a code for conversion therapy.
However, a more thorough and comprehensive fact-check carried out by the Washington Post by Glenn Kessler also examined that statement.
The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act was a law named after an Indiana teenager who contacted AIDS through a contaminated treatment for hemophilia, Kessler explained. The Act provided grants to ensure care for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“We looked into the debate concerning the 2000 reauthorization bill. A major issue at the time was encouraging better safe-sex practices by people with HIV to prevent the spread of the disease,” Kessler wrote.
He also noted that the “language [on the Pence website] speaks of changing “sexual behavior,” not sexuality. Another line on the old website refers to “the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.”
And Kessler revealed that “Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now House speaker, told the House Budget Committee in 2001 that focusing on sexual behavior was important to help stem the spread of the disease.”
He quotes Rep Pelosi as saying: “CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] programs are reaching individuals and helping them change risky behaviors. Studies have shown that the availability of counseling and testing has a direct impact on the spread of this epidemic, particularly among young people. The CDC recently reported that 90 percent of young people changed their sexual behaviors after discovering they had HIV. “
Although critics of the Vice President persist in pointing to the 2000 campaign website as evidence, it’s clear that Mr Pence did not say he supported gay conversion therapy at that time, and that assisting people to address risky sexual behaviour in the context of HIV/Aids was, in fact, a talking point for the legislation under discussion.
What has Vice President Pence said?
What was written on a 2000 campaign website only became a point of contention after Mr Pence was chosen to be Donald Trump’s running mate.
When challenged on the contentious statement, the Vice President’s office has unequivocally stated that he does not support conversion therapy and confirmed that his campaign page at the time was referring to safe-sex practices.
According to Glenn Kessler, spokeswoman for Mr Pence, Alyssa Farah, recently issued a statement saying: “The vice president has never supported conversion therapy and doesn’t support it now. Any reports to the contrary are patently false. He’s been abundantly clear on the matter.”
USA Today also quotes Ms Farah as describing the accusation of support for gay conversion therapy as “totally false” and having “no basis in fact”.
There appears to be no direct evidence that Vice President Pence supports gay conversion therapy. As the Washington Post observed: “media citations on this issue should be more careful in how they reference it.”