Mathew Shurka’s ex-gay therapy story hopes to sway GA members
At 16, Mathew Shurka was being forced to masturbate to straight porn with the hopes of it killing his same-sex attraction.
This treatment, along with numerous other controversial medical techniques, are legally allowed to be forced upon a minor here in Virginia, unless two bills before this year’s General Assembly manage to make it to the Governor’s desk.
Shurka (Top Image), now 26, painted his five year journey with ex-gay therapy in a vivid and dark light. He claimed he was denied access to women in his life, forced through what he called “masturbation therapy,” and even given Viagra at age 17 to help achieve erections while looking at women.
“I don’t have erectile dysfunction,” said Shurka during a press conference at the Virginia General Assembly building today. “I was not interested in women. I knew what my desire was. Being healthy and having a healthy body… using those pills is something that haunts me to this day.”
Mathew, originally from New York, started feeling attracted to the same sex shortly after puberty. After coming out to his parents, he began to seek ex-gay therapy at the advice of his father.
“I was afraid of the consequences of coming out in a high school, and having my parents’ approval,” he said. “Coming from a traditional town, and coming from a traditional family, I began conversion therapy.”
His parents began looking into programs nationwide, and his first shot at treatment took him to Los Angeles where a therapist there told his mother he’d be straight in six weeks.
“Because of my husbands upbringing,” said Jane Shurka, Mathew’s mother, who was also at the General Assembly for today’s press conference. “He felt his son would have a better life if he was not gay. I went along with my husband, not because i shared his concern, but Mathew wanted help and I thought ‘now is the time to do it while he’s young.’”
The Shurka’s were a modern secular family, but that outlook faded from Mathew’s fathers view as he became more concerned with his son’s sexuality.
“My husband respected the therapist’s knowledge more than his own judgement,” said Jane. Shurka’s treatments continued. He sought programs around the country, including Journey to Manhood based outside of Charlottesville, VA.
“In order to cure one’s homosexuality, you had to experience healthy male bonding,” said Mathew about the details of his treatment. “I basically had to be removed from all females, so no female friendships.”
He was told not to speak to his mother or sister for three years. It was about this time when life for Mathew hit a tail spin. The once straight A-student had become a failing student.
“Communicating with my son was an ordeal,” said Jane. “He was so unhappy… Try to imagine waking up every day not accepting and knowing what you are.”
Jane continued to go along with the treatment, but she could tell Mathew was hurting on the inside. “I observed my son, and watched a bright young man fall apart,” she said.
Anxiety, mood swings, and a total breakdown in communication were part of the daily routine in the Shurka family.
“He was not allowed to be himself,” Jane said. “Being himself is not the right thing to do according to conversion therapy.” Beyond his struggle manifesting in the relationships around him, he continued to struggle with his sexuality and what he believed was the best course of action to cure it.
“Maybe my father knew what was best for me. Maybe my therapist knew what was best for me. Maybe there is no such thing as homosexuality and I am suffering through a condition I can’t get over,” he said.
His sister, Melanie, also spoke at today’s conference. She was 22 when Mathew came out. She admitted she wasn’t sure what was happening him was best, but she didn’t feel she had the right to go against her father on the issue.
“That was really impactful, him being a minor, having to go through that,” Melanie said. “Having this be decided by a parent who was scared.”
“I was ashamed my brother was going through this, our family, a secular modern family, and we just waited,” she said. “We watched him be constantly be diverted by acceptance and overly consumed with ‘If I wasn’t born with this, maybe I could change?’”
Mathew’s story is one many are familiar with, according to Alliance for Progressive values’ Depty Director for LGBTQ issues Apryl Prentiss. She’s an ex-gay survivor herself.
“I myself know many survivors who cannot speak out about their experience because they have been wounded so deeply, they believe testifying would re-traumatize them,” said Prentiss during today’s press conference.
“The dangerous and discredited practice aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity, they are based on false claims that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that needs to be cured, a view with not scientific basis.”
Delegate Patrick Hope is the author of the House Bill hoping to stop the use of ex-gay therapy on minors, HB 1385.
“I believe the role of gov is to take care of those in need, and also to step in when we believe there is a harm,” said Hope, who helped organize today’s conference. “Particularly important that we stand up for our minors.”
It’s the “minors” part of the bill Hope and Prentiss are aiming to stress. The bill doesn’t stop those over the age of 18 from seeking a treatment the American Medical Association has decried. Nor does it stop a priest or pastor from advising someone under the age of 18 from using a practice the American Psychiatric Association said has the “potential risks of… depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.”
But this isn’t the first time Hope has tried to push for legislation combating the treatment; last year, he proposed a similar bill which failed to get out of Committee.
Whether or not the bill passes is up to the five member House Health, Welfare and Institutions Sub-Committee, where four of the five members are republicans.
SB 988, the Senate version of the same bill, patroned by Senator L. Louise Lucas (D- 18), faces a similar 8-7 Republican majority over in the Senate Education and Health committee expected to hear the bill next week.
As for Mathew, he left ex-gay therapy at 21.
He started to challenge the therapists who were administering his treatment, questioning their own ex-gay stories.
“I was fully acknowledging how they, themselves, were still dealing with these issues,” he said. “And at some point I had enough.” He got a job at a restaurant in NYC and spent two years still unsure about who he was.
He was surrounded by gays at work – coworkers, or customers – exposing him to healthy gay relationships and role models. Finally, in January of 2012 he came out to himself and his loved ones as gay.
“Having people to look up, people I could slowly start talking to, I felt inspired enough to come out and live my life and love myself and not be ashamed.”
He started advocating against ex-gay therapy by October of that year, but he was still plagued by concerns hungover from his ex-gay therapy.
“I thought maybe I mistake, what if I try conversion therapy again,” he said. And this is why he fights – he sees others who went through these treatments, especially minors, constantly questioning who they are and wondering if they were right to leave.
Mathew said he’s since gotten over his fears, but he still hasn’t been in a relationship since he was 21. His relationship with his father was pretty rough for a while too. The two were estranged for about two years after he left treatment.
“I do have a relationship where we speak often, I see him, and I realized ,” he said. “And I still can have that and enjoy that.”
He doesn’t expect his father to attend a Pride parade anytime soon, he doesn’t like that he’s an advocate either.
“I’m not waiting for him to be 100% on everything,” Mathew said. “But I don’t have to sacrifice my father-son relationship with him.”
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