The issue of gay conversion therapy has recently been in the spotlight. It's a very controversial treatment, aimed at curing homosexuality. Critics say the therapy is dangerous, inhumane and can even lead to suicide. But there are some who say banning the treatment would be just as dangerous, even unconstitutional.
At a very young age, there were two things Tucker Russel was sure of. He had a strong faith in God and he was gay.
Tucker says, "I felt tremendous guilt and tremendous anxiety, tremendous fear. Just hours in agonizing prayer begging and pleading with God to please make me straight."
Growing up in a strict christian household, he knew his two lifestyles didn't mix.
"I thought how could I ever be a minister, how could I ever have a life in the church if I had homosexual feelings?"
Tucker struggled with his sexuality for years. It was when he entered college to study ministry, that he sought professional help.
"At the advice of pastors and church leaders, went to gay conversion therapy."
Over the course of four years, Tucker went through three types of gay conversion, or reparative therapy. The therapy is commonly used by Christian fundamentalists. It's basis is to turn a gay person straight. There have been reports of people undergoing shock therapy, castration, even exorcism, to cure them of their homosexuality. Tucker's treatments were not as extreme, but he say's they were still harmful. He says counselors concluded his homosexuality was fueled by a poor relationship with his father and identity confusion-- problems he didn't actually have.
"That therapy or treatment really left me with a sense of despair and I entered a phase of suicidal depression. It was really a very dark time for me," says Tucker.
It's a similar story for a Fresno woman who didn't want to be identified. Unlike Tucker, she didn't choose to seek therapy. She was forced to go by her parents.
"They thought that it would cure me from being gay. They thought something was wrong with me."
In 1999, at 20 years old, she began attending counseling sessions at the New Creation Ministries in Fresno. Her therapist was Russell Willingham.
"He always interpreted the bible in our sessions, but the first one we ever had was he mentioned that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. To this day that sticks in my head. It just made me feel bad about myself like I was doing something that's wrong against Christian values."
Russell Willingham has been fixing what he calls sexual brokenness for 30 years. He says he never shames anyone and he never forces a person to change.
"We're not telling people they can't choose to be gay if they want to embrace that, that's certainly their right and we respect their freedom to be able to make that choice. They also should respect the freedom of others who want to do something different or pursue a different course, and to do so without illegalizing that," says Willingham.
The topic has been on the minds of many recently. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to ban gay conversion therapy for minors. The bill is now tied up in court. Willingham says it not only violates freedom of speech and religion, but a person's right to seek help.
"For instance a person who has been say molested by a coach Sandusky who now struggles with same sex attraction who doesn't want that, basically the law says you can't get those services if you want them because you're a minor. That just hits me as being incredibly unfair and unjust."
Tucker says, "that would be like a doctor claiming arsenic cures Alzhiemer's and claiming protection of free speech. You're giving out unsound medical advice that is harming people. It's not a free speech issue."
Tucker is now an openly gay man and a part time minister at the First Congressional Church in Fresno. He says it was by God's grace he was able to find a place to embrace him no matter who he loves. He's now comfortable with his own sexuality but says the damage he suffered through reparative therapy, will last a lifetime.
Reparative therapy was also unsuccessful for the woman in this story, who is now openly gay. Willingham says the treatment does work for many people and in those cases, he says, people's lives are changed for the better.
In 1973, the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. The organization says it is against treatment aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation.