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The treacherous new facade of the "ex-gays"

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Monday, June 25, 2007

The treacherous new facade of the "ex-gays"

Last week, the LA Times published a story that sent a ripple through ?ex-gay? circles when Alan Chambers of Exodus International, the oldest group pushing this damaging ?therapy,? stated that he is dropping the term ?ex-gay? and that he will longer claim to ?cure? homosexuality and acknowledged that maybe homosexuality is biological.

The group will instead shift its rhetoric to one of helping people to control their sexual desires rather than an outright conversion to heterosexuality. Clearly, they are on the run, as science and public opinion are proving them to be the vicious snake-oil peddlers that they are. And it was amusing to see a full-fledged fundie fight erupt, as other confused, deceptive and dangerous so-called ?ex-gays? freaked out.

One part of the article that raised a red flag for me, however, was a discussion of a program that a man named Warren Throckmorton, a researcher from a Christian college, has devised that supposedly helps those people who are religiously conflicted with their homosexuality -- and want to adhere to their faith -- to control their sexual desires, rather than accept them, even it means they remain celibate. (He came up with these guidelines with another researcher, from Regent University -- yes, Pat Robertson's university that is committed to churning out graduates who are committed to pushing the evangelical Christian agenda in public life).

Most troubling is that Michael Bussee, a gay activist and ex-ex-gay (he co-founded Exodus International back in 1976, only to renounce it years later and leave with another ex-gay counselor and c-founder, Gary Cooper, who became his lover), was quoted as signing on to these highly suspect guidelines:

He and other gay activists ? along with major mental-health associations ? still reject therapy aimed at "liberating" or "curing" gays. But Bussee is willing to acknowledge potential in therapy that does not promise change but instead offers patients help in managing their desires and modifying their behavior to match their religious values ? even if that means a life of celibacy.

"It's about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act," said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach.

The guidelines for this type of therapy ? written by Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University ? have been endorsed by representatives on both the left and right. The list includes the provost of a conservative evangelical college and the psychiatrist whose gay-rights advocacy in the 1970s got homosexuality removed from the official medical list of mental disorders.

The pro-gay psychiatrist the article mentions is the Columbia professor Robert Spitzer who stunned many, and came under a lot of criticism several years ago from most in the field, after publishing the results of a questionable study that claimed some can benefit from this kind of therapy (and was lauded by "ex-gays" and their antigay supporters). Since then, there has not by any stretch been a groundswell of support for this, though the article makes it seem that way. And what I worry about, in reading Bussee's quotes, is that maybe that is changing. Maybe some gay activists are seeking to make this "compromise" -- certainly that seems to be the case with Bussee, even thoug he is very outspoken against the "ex-gay" movement.

I had Michael Bussee on my show last week, and he confirmed that he does support the guidelines, because, even though he is opposed to claims of ?cure,? he believes that ?self-determination? should be the guiding force and if a patient wants to be celibate because he or she is conflicted about religious beliefs then a therapist should help that individual. But that is, as Wayne Besen ? long-time activists who has exposed the fraudulent, damaging agenda of the ?ex-gay? movement ? said when he came on the show a few days later, nothing else but ?ex-gay? therapy dressed up in a new, shiny coat. It?s what intelligent design is to creationism. I asked the prominent New York psychiatrist Jack Drescher, who has been at the forefront of this debate, about all of this and he said he would not treat someone by telling the patient that it's okay to not to accept his or her sexual oriention. Why would a doctor treat someone by allowing that person to remain sick?

And, as Wayne reports on his web site, Throckmorton has been connected to crackpot antigay efforts, and his work is highly dubious. The idea that some gay advocates would sign on to his program is both foolish and dangerous, because it seems that he and others are simply laying a trap. I fear that this kind of therapy will become the new way that the ex-gays ? like Alan Chambers ? advance their movement, wrapped in a new veneer but just as bogus and destructive as ever.

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Whenever my partner and I see a news story about a group trying to "change" people from gay to straight, we always laugh at the memory of the Queer as Folk episode on the subject. In that show, the (somewhat-effeminate) head of a fictitious gay-to-straight organization tells his audience, "you can change, you can change, you can change!"

And Emmett, one of the QAF characters, immediately mutters, "I'd start with those shoes."

My other thought is: where are the straight-to-gay conversion groups? That's something I'd like to see, just in the interest of equal time. :confused:

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