Google Under Fire for Keeping App Promoting Gay Conversion Therapy in Play Store

Google is facing backlash for allowing an app to remain in Google Play that promotes gay conversion therapy for young adults.   LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Google is facing backlash for allowing an app to remain in Google Play that promotes gay conversion therapy for young adults.

The app was removed from Amazon and the Apple App Store last month after efforts by LGBT rights organization Truth Wins Out.

The group launched a petition on Thursday calling for Google to remove the Living Hope Ministries app from its online store, Wayne Besen, the Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, told Newsweek. His organization previously sent a letter to Google requesting the app be removed.

The petition, which had more than 39,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, says that the app "marginalizes and stigmatizes LGBT people" by comparing "homosexuality to an addiction."

The app instructs those seeking a "recovery from same-sex attractions" to "seek out a Christian therapist who has a redemptive perspective on homosexuality," and "abstain from physically acting out, engaging in sexual fantasy, pornography and masturbation."

Offering 17 points of advice, the app says that the "recovery" will be difficult. It tells readers to "trust and obey. There are no shortcuts to these two commands. Homosexual and lesbian lifestyles are built around trusting oneself or depending completely on someone else, not the kind of abandonment to God's heart and intentions for us that characterize trust."

It urges users to "accept the reality that emotionally healthy life can feel boring in the beginning. After the drama and excitement often associated with gay lifestyle, making responsible, God-honoring choices feels black and white in comparison to a Technicolor life."

Besen questioned why Google had not yet taken down the app while Apple and Amazon already had. Google did not comment to Newsweek prior to publication.

Google is facing backlash for allowing an app to remain in Google Play that promotes gay conversion therapy for young adults.     LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Both the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association have issued statements rejecting conversion therapy. The APA wrote in 1998 that "APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy, that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation."

A 2008 study from the APA and 12 other groups said that "efforts to change sexual orientation by therapy or through religious ministries seems likely to exacerbate the risk of harassment, harm, and fear for these youth," noting that ostracization among gay and bisexual youth can lead to suicide attempts and substance use.

A study from San Francisco State University said that LGBTQ youth who were rejected by their caregivers were eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who were not and almost six times more likely to say they had high depression levels, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

President Barack Obama called for an end for conversion therapy for minors in 2015. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C. now ban conversion therapy, according to The Hill. New York is poised to become the 15th state to ban the practice after the state legislature passed legislation to ban conversion therapy on Tuesday.

Besen described the conversion therapy effort as "pure unadulterated hate, candy coated with a veneer of love." He told Newsweek, "They are trying to prey on LGBT youth with a product that is fraudulent. Nobody can change from gay to straight. They're selling snake oil."

He said that Living Hope recommendations are "absolutely loaded with fake medical advice" and that "the group refers to gay men as 'sexually broken guys' who can 'walk out of false identities' and claims, without evidence, that the 'gay lifestyle' is 'spiritually and physically harmful,'" citing the organization's website.

Ricky Chelette, the executive director of Living Hope Ministries described heterosexuality as the natural sexual orientation and compared the stance to environmentalists saying people shouldn't interfere with the state of nature.

"I realize that feelings don't determine our identity.... I think that nature tells us a lot," he told Newsweek. "As a male, I am made in a way to connect with a female."

He told Newsweek that "every person who participates online or in person signs off on a form that says they understand" that the religious advice is not a replacement for medical care and that personnel make their lack of medical training "quite clear."

"I assume that folks who are gay identified and happy are not looking at our app to begin with. There are tons of pro-gay apps," he said. "We love gay-identified people, we're simply here to help those who don't want to be gay."