Lyn Duff

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Lyn Duff (born 1976) is an American journalist.[1] Her career began in eighth grade with an underground school newspaper and has continued in various written and audio mediums. She has done extensive reporting in Israel and Haiti. After being forced into anti-gay conversion therapy as a child, she escaped, survived, and was emancipated from her parents. She speaks out for youth rights and criticizes the mental health systems. Having a BA in international affairs and labor law and an MA in Theology, she is affiliated with the Pacific News Service and KPFA radio's Flashpoints, an evening drive-time public affairs show heard daily on Pacifica Radio.

Early years[edit]

Born in California in 1976, Duff began her journalistic career as the founder of an underground school newspaper, The Tiger Club, while an 8th grader at South Pasadena Junior High School in 1989. After five published issues, she was suspended from school by the principal for refusing to stop disseminating the newspaper.[1]

After seeking help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the South Pasadena Unified School District agreed to allow her to return to school. She completed her 8th grade year and was then accepted as an early entrance student to California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), which she attended for a year and a half.

While at CSULA Duff was on staff of an alternative newspaper published by Los Angeles art critic Mat Gleason who, at the time, was a graduate student in the school of journalism and president of an alternative Greek organization, Omega Omega Omega, and later went on to publish Coagula Art Journal.

Involuntary conversion therapy[edit]

In 1991 Duff, then fourteen, came out publicly as lesbian.[2][3][4]

Concerned about her daughter's sexual orientation, Duff's mother had her admitted to Rivendell Psychiatric Center (now called Copper Hills Youth Center) in West Jordan, Utah. Duff was admitted to Rivendell Psychiatric Center on December 19, 1991, at age 15.[5]

During the drive from California to Utah, Duff covertly called journalist and friend Bruce Mirken who then wrote for both the LA Weekly and The Advocate.[6] Although 30 years her senior, the two nevertheless had had plans to meet for dinner prior to her therapy stay, and upon hearing of her situation, Mirken phoned a public interest legal aid society that secured pro bono services of corporate attorney Gina M. Calabrese of the Los Angeles firm Adams, Duque & Hazeltine.[5]

Although Rivendell was not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Duff later said that she was visited by Mormon missionaries during her six months at the Utah psychiatric facility and that the treatment she received was heavily influenced by religion. Duff says that Rivendell therapists told her that a gay and lesbian orientation was caused by negative experiences with people of the opposite gender and that having a lesbian sexual identity would lead to sexually abusing other people or engaging in bestiality. Duff was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and clinical depression.[2][7][8] Duff was subjected to a regimen of conversion therapy. This involved aversion therapy, which consisted of being forced to watch same-sex pornography while smelling ammonia.[9] She was also subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, solitary confinement, and therapeutic messages linking lesbian sex with "the pits of hell".[10] Behavior modification techniques were also used, including requiring girls to wear dresses and harsh punishment for small infractions similar to hazing like having to cut the lawn with small scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush, and "positive peer pressure" group sessions in which patients demeaned and belittled each other for both real and perceived inadequacies.[5][11][12][13][14]

On May 19, 1992, after 168 days of treatment, Duff ran away from Rivendell and traveled to San Francisco, where she lived on the streets and in safe houses.[15]

Emancipation and adoption[edit]

In late 1992, with the help of Legal Services for Children and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and with legal assistance provided by the National Center for Youth Law, Duff petitioned the courts to have her mother's parental rights terminated. She was one of a handful of children who divorced their parents that year.[16][17][18] In October 1992, a lesbian couple in San Francisco adopted Duff. She lived with them until the age of eighteen, when she began living independently and returned to college.[12][19][20]

Youth rights activism[edit]

From 1992 through 1998, Duff was an outspoken critic of the mental health system, appearing on CNN, ABC's 20/20, and numerous print, radio and television media outlets.[21] She also spoke at a number of human rights, civil rights, mental health and youth services conferences about her experiences and the rights of young people to live free of discrimination and oppression on the basis of their sexual orientation.[22][23] During these years she also served on the board of several national organizations including the National Center for Youth Law (board member 1994–2001) and the National Child Rights Alliance (board member 1992–1993, board chairperson 1994–1999). In 1996, Duff was honored as a keynote speaker and given a human rights award at the international conference of the Metropolitan Community Church.

During these same years, Duff was emerging as a journalist in her own right, writing for Youth Outlook, a column in The San Francisco Examiner, and Pacific News Service. She joined the staff of Flashpoints, a daily hour-long drive-time show broadcast on Pacifica Radio's KPFA in 1994. Her writings have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, Salon, Utne Reader, Sassy, The Washington Post, Seventeen, the Miami Herald and the National Catholic Reporter.[24][25][26][27][28]

In 1995, Duff traveled to Haiti, where she established Radyo Timoun ("Children's Radio"), that country's first radio station run entirely by children under the age of seventeen.[29] She reportedly worked closely with Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.[30][31]

In 1998, Duff graduated with a BA in international affairs and labor law from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.

International journalism[edit]

By the late 1990s, Duff was a well-established international journalist with postings in Haiti, Israel, Croatia, several African countries, and Vietnam. After the United States invaded Afghanistan, she traveled to the front lines as one of the few non-embedded Western journalists.[32]

In early 2000 she began to cover religious affairs from her posting in Jerusalem, writing widely on the problems and conflicts between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. In 2002, Duff earned an MA in Theology.[33]

In February 2004, Duff, who was then living six months out of every year in Jerusalem, was home in the United States on a brief visit when a group of ex-soldiers overthrew the democratically elected government of Haiti. She quickly traveled to Haiti, arriving in Port-au-Prince when the coup was only days old and reporting on the situation extensively for several national media outlets.[34]

During 2004–2006, Duff regularly covered the situation in Haiti for San Francisco Bay View, Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints, and Pacific News Service. Her reporting is a blend of in-depth investigative reports and "as told to" first person commentaries by Haitian nationals. Subjects have included politically motivated mass rape,[35] the United Nations mission in Haiti, killings by American Marines in Port-au-Prince,[36] civilians taking over the neighborhood of Bel Air[37] and murders of street children by police and ex-soldiers.[38]


  1. ^ a b Mike Hale (September 6, 1994). "Committed She Was a Rebel and a Lesbian. Her Mom Had Her Clapped into a Mental Hospital. Now She Speaks out for Kids like Herself". San Jose Mercury News. San Jose, California. p. 1C.
  2. ^ a b "Journalist to discuss sex conversion therapy" (Press release). NYS Museum. May 29, 2008. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved 2010-11-17.
  3. ^ "Picks of the Week - June 5–11". The Times Union. Albany, New York. June 5, 2008. p. P4.
  4. ^ Phillip Sherman; Samuel Bernstein (1994). Uncommon heroes: a celebration of heroes and role models for gay and lesbian Americans. Fletcher Press. p. 150. ASIN B000UCIBGI.
  5. ^ a b c Mirken, Bruce (June 1994). "Setting Them Straight". San Francisco: 10 Percent. pp. 54–60.
  6. ^ Andy Hsiao (October 6, 1998). "Press Clips". The Village Voice. New York.
  7. ^ Tom Jarriel; Barbara Walters (August 29, 1997). "Mom, I'm a Lesbian: Mother Commits Lesbian Teen to Institution". ABC 20/20. ABC News.
  8. ^ Michelle Locke (January 19, 1998). "True love or imprisonment? Teen behavior programs in spotlight". Associated Press.
  9. ^ Chris Holmlund; Justin Wyatt (2005). Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream. Routledge. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-415-25486-1.
  10. ^ Carole Rafferty (August 2, 1995). "Gender identity problems; Gays angered about doctors forcing issue". Houston Chronicle. Knight-Ridder Tribune News. p. 3.
  11. ^ Pela, Robert L. (November 11, 1997). "Boys in the dollhouse, girls with toy trucks". The Advocate. pp. 55–59.
  12. ^ a b "Lambda Update". The Lambda Update. Fall 1993. p. 4.
  13. ^ David B. Cruz (1999). "Controlling Desires: Sexual Conversion and the Limits of Law" (PDF). Southern California Law Review. 72: 1297. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-09-19. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  14. ^ Churcher, Sharon (September 6, 1998). "Going Straight". Sunday Mail. Queensland, Australia. p. 40.
  15. ^ Ladie Terry (December 13, 1994). "'Orphans' Speak Out". San Jose Mercury News. San Jose, California. p. 7B.
  16. ^ Ocamb, Karen. "Shannon Minter on NARTH Lawsuit Against Psychological Child Abuse Law". The Bilerico Project. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  17. ^ Molnar, Beth (1997). "Juveniles and Psychiatric Institutionalization: Toward Better Due Process and Treatment Review in the United States" (PDF). Health and Human Rights. Harvard College. 2 (2): 98–116. doi:10.2307/4065274. JSTOR 4065274. PMID 10381831. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 24, 2015. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  18. ^ Steven K. Wisensale. "Family Law, Public Policy and New Federalism". Archived from the original on January 9, 1997. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  19. ^ Lyn Duff (May 1996). "I Was a Teenage Test Case". California Lawyer Magazine.
  20. ^ Carole Rafferty (July 30, 1995). "Families have role in gender problems". The Times Union. Albany, N.Y.
  21. ^ Stevens, Frances (June 2002). "Rising to the challenge. (Frankly Speaking)". Curve. Vol. 12, no. 4. p. 2.
  22. ^ "Itinerary of CNMHC Program". March 16, 1997. Archived from the original on December 31, 2004. Retrieved July 10, 2007. Showing Duff as speaker.
  23. ^ Marianne Costantinou (January 18, 1998). "Disciplinary camps, schools put teens' rights on the line". The San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  24. ^ Sandy Kleffman (June 13, 1995). "Area Editor, Scientist Win 'Genius' Grants Foundation Rewards Giving a Voice to the Voiceless". San Jose Mercury News. San Jose, California. p. 1A.
  25. ^ David Wiegand (August 23, 1998). "Coming Up; What's New This Week". San Francisco Chronicle.
  26. ^ Lyn Duff (January 14, 1998). "Life Stirs under San Francisco". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio. p. 3E.
  27. ^ Lyn Duff (September 10, 1997). "Life with Carnivals: 'Where Misfits Fit in'". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio. p. 3E.
  28. ^ Lyn Duff (July 25, 2002). "The beat goes on, despite suicide bombers". San Bernardino Sun.
  29. ^ Lyn Duff (1996). "Children's Radio Station Gives Voice to Haiti's Future". The San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  30. ^ Lyn Duff (2 March 2004). "Jean Bertrand Aristide: Humanist or Despot?". Pacific News Service. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  31. ^ Justin Felux (March 14, 2004). "Debunking the Media's Lies about President Aristide]". Dissident Voice. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  32. ^ Kat Snow (August 19, 1997). "Journalist Lyn Duff, 21". The Advocate. No. 739/740. p. 67. ISSN 0001-8996.
  33. ^ Anderson-Minshall, Diane (June 2002). "Where are they now". Curve. Vol. 12, no. 4. p. 28.
  34. ^ Peter Phillips; Greg Palast (2004). Censored 2005: The Top 25 Censored Stories. Seven Stories Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-58322-655-1. Lyn Duff.
  35. ^ Lyn Duff (February 24, 2005). "Haiti Rapes". Z Magazine. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  36. ^ "Flashpoints Special Correspondent Lyn Duff on the ground in Haiti". Flashpoints. March 31, 2004. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  37. ^ Lyn Duff (November 4, 2005). "We Won't Be Peaceful and Let Them Kill Us Any Longer". Z Magazine. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  38. ^ Lyn Duff (January 15, 2005). "Killings of Haitian Street Kids Soar". Z Magazine. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2007.

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