TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — Should parents legally be able to send their children to therapy to "pray the gay away"?
Right now, some Oklahoma lawmakers are looking to ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy for minors.
As Deputy Director of Oklahomans for Equality, Jose Vega is dedicated to fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community, and one reason why -- there's a time in his life he fights not to think about every day.
After "coming out" as a teen to his devout Catholic family, Vega says confusion led him to agree to conversion therapy, not knowing it would consist of praying daily at the church, three hours before school and three hours after.
"It takes a toll on your knees; you want to just lean or relax a bit? No. Straight on your knees for six hours," Vega said.
Every day, he watched the same video that graphically depicted how the church believes sins are "paid in hell."
"It's like a video that's always playing in my mind. I can still see it like I'm watching it right now," Vega said.
Eventually, he says the church started incorporating nausea-inducing droplets several times a day.
"They had a terrible taste, horrible taste. I remember it was a bottle about this big, black oily," Vega said.
After nine months, Vega, who lost weight and began failing school, decided to move out of his house, often sleeping underneath a bridge not far from his Webster High School.
Right now, 18 states and several cities have placed some type of ban on conversion therapy.
The American Psychiatric Association opposes it, and in 2001, the surgeon general stated there is no science behind conversion therapy, but don't tell that to Stephen Black, executive director of First Stone Ministries in Oklahoma City.
"I was called a sissy. I was called a queer," Black said.
Black says he used to live as a gay man, and he says it was caused by years of bullying and abuse. He says everyone told him he was gay, even the priest of his parent's parish.
"I was beat unmercifully and name-called, so by the time I went through all that, I just believed I was homosexual," Black said.
A spiritual epiphany and the AIDS outbreak led Black to reconsider marrying a woman and having children.
As an ordained minister and not a counselor, he and his staff provide what they call "pastoral care" to adults and minors, therapy he wishes he had.
"I might not have spent eight years as a gay-identified young man," Black said.
He considers conversion therapy a ruse term, and while he does believe barbaric treatments once existed, is short to say they do any more.
Vega graduated, reconnected with family, and goes to church.
For the relatives who still choose not to accept him, he says the best message of Christ is forgiveness.
"And all I say is like, 'I love you, too.' That is all," Vega said.
Legislation introduced this year would ban licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy on minors. It didn't get a committee hearing and may be heard next year after a study.
Because First Stone Ministries is Bible-based, and they don't employ licensed counselors, a ban would likely not affect them.