UPDATE: According to Truth Wins Out, the app has been quietly pulled from iTunes.
Apple has come under fire for its approval of a new app that’s being billed as a gay conversion app. The app in question, from Exodus International, a religious organization that teaches “freedom from homosexuality through prayer and practicing conversion therapy,” promises users “current news, information and resources” allowing their organization to “reach a broader demographic and readily provide information that is crucial for many seeking hope and encouragement.”
Though the app was released back on February 15, the furor over its approval is just beginning largely due to an online petition from Change.org and Truth Wins Out, which as of this writing has collected nearly 84,000 signatures. The groups have called on Apple to stop supporting the app and remove it from the app store. Apple has the app rated as “4+” on account of it containing “no objectionable content.”
And that’s what troubles the people behind the petition.
No objectionable content? We beg to differ. Exodus’ message is hateful and bigoted. They claim to offer “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ” and use scare tactics, misinformation, stereotypes and distortions of LGBT life to recruit clients. They endorse the use of so-called “reparative therapy” to “change” the sexual orientation of their clients, despite the fact that this form of “therapy” has been rejected by every major professional medical organization including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Counseling Association. But reparative therapy isn’t just bad medicine — it’s also very damaging to the self-esteem and mental health of its victims.
This new iPhone app is the latest move in Exodus’ dangerous new strategy of targeting youth. In light of the recent wave of LGBT youth suicides, this tactic is particularly galling as it creates, legitimizes, and fuels the ostracism of LGBT youth by their families. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times as vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs (Caitlin Ryan, San Francisco State University, June 2009).
Curiously, Apple has, in the past, removed apps from the store which the company has deemed offensive or defamatory. According to Alex Spillius, Apple has recently removed apps from political cartoonists Mark Fiore in December 2009 (he went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his work in 2010); they removed the app from Manhattan Declaration, which encouraged users to take denounce gay marriage; and they banned the “Me So Holy” app which allowed users to paste photographs of themselves over the heads of various religious figures.
Victoria Pynchon, writing for Forbes, takes the free market/free speech approach to dealing with the app and suggests that asking for its removal is akin to censorship. “Agree or disagree,” she says, “what is most troubling about the Anti-Gay App Hubbub is the apparent ease with which we’re willing to surrender our national story to a computer manufacturer. If, as some have predicted, we are moving away from an unregulated Internet wild west and toward a more “orderly” electronic society of pre-packaged App-voices, we do ourselves a frightening disservice to ask Apple, or any other corporate entity, to serve as our national gatekeeper.”
She goes on to add that in downloading the app she found it to not be hate speech, but to be an expression of religious beliefs. Which she then quickly points out she disagrees with.
And if the ultimate judgment for any product in the free market is based upon costumer satisfaction or reviews, then Apple customers are letting themselves be heard. The app currently has an approval rating of 1.5 stars out of 5, with several reviewers up in arms.
One customer said: “This is hate-based initiative of the fanatical religious right intending to brainwash and emotionally destroy gay and lesbian people by coercing them to hate themselves based on their natural sexual orientation.”
Another said: “What a shameful, deceptive app. What’s next, Apple? An app by KKK complete with GPS tracker of nearby black people?”
And another still: “How can apple have let this app pass? This app is promoting religion based bullying and homophobia. As a straight Christian I am appalled! I don’t even want to award a star but I will so I can show my disgust!”
Oddly, other than the op-ed by Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out in the Huffington Post, there seems to be very little chatter from the gay community regarding the approval of this app. Or from religious group who would support this app, for that matter. What do you think?