<% IssueDate = "12/8/03" IssueCategory = "Viewpoint" %> GayToday.com - Viewpoint
Why Do Ex-Gays Matter?

By Thomas Kraemer

"Should we help ex-gays by giving them any attention?" asked one gay newspaper editor when she was confronted with the decision of how to cover an ex-gay "Love Won Out" event.

Most people who live in a gay-friendly city probably share her concern. When you are isolated from rural America it is easy to dismiss ex-gay groups as being harmless religious nuts.
Ex-gay John Paulk made the cover of Newsweek

After reading Wayne R. Besen's new book Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, I now better understand how ex-gays are being exploited as pawns in the "cultural war" against gay rights. (See GayToday review by Jesse Monteagudo http://gaytoday.com/reviews/112403re.asp 11/24/03; Wayne Besen's web site, http://www.anythingbutstraight.com and interview by Raj Ayyar, Wayne Besen: Exposing Scandals Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, http://gaytoday.com/interview/080103in.asp )

Besen's book makes a powerful case that the problem is not ex-gays, but it is the way they are being exploited to politically oppose equal rights for gay people. Their political agenda is hidden under the cover of "loving" religious organizations.

John Paulk is pictured on the cover of Wayne Besen's book Anything But Straight leaving a gay bar in Washington, D.C. after his Newsweek appearnce This ex-gay political "spin" succeeds as follows: It lures gay people into dismissing ex-gays as being just a bunch of religious nuts. It causes gay allies to tolerate ex-gays under the guise of religious tolerance. The result is ex-gays can harm gay people with impunity.

Besen believes that we are mistaken to ignore ex-gay groups because we pity them or think they are harmless. Besen admits to having thought this way until he realized that the religious right was lavishly funding and using these groups as a political weapon. Besen says he was happy to leave them alone until they became political.

Perhaps my viewpoint is distorted by living on a blue island in a sea of red. In my small town, which is dominated by a large state university, 80% vote for Democrats. However, in the surrounding rural counties 80% have consistently voted for Republicans and anti-gay ballot measures.

My part of the country is not unique. Demographic maps from the last presidential election show that only voters in large cities and a few demographic islands, such as my college town, are gay-friendly Democrats. Anti-gay religious conservatives and Republicans clearly dominate the other half of the country. Besen is right that we should not hesitate to get on our metaphorical "combat boots" and defend ourselves against the "cultural war" being waged by fundamentalist theocrats.

I have recently experienced several examples of ex-gay terrorism in my local community. For example, I was shocked to see Richard Cohen's ex-gay advocacy book Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality showing up in bookstores and university libraries. Apparently, an "anonymous" donor has been giving copies to university libraries. No library I contacted wanted to "censor" this book, despite the fact that their library policies forbid the acquisition of political hate literature, such as neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic books. (Special library archives are typically setup for this purpose)

I was even more shocked to find Cohen's book in the psychology/self help section (upstairs and away from the gay/lesbian shelf) of an independent bookstore that liberally displays Michael Moore's books in the window, but hides Bill O'Reilly's books in the back. The owner who has run the place since 1971 still looks like an authentic aging hippie and he has always stocked gay books when nobody else would. The store's manager verified that they did not order the book.

I discovered the same situation at Borders and other mainstream bookstores. It appears that ex-gay terrorists are planting ex-gay books in bookstores by "reverse shoplifting."

In response to this "cultural war," I bought five copies of Besen's book and planted them in the ex-gay book section of local Christian bookstores. I also plan to make a library donation. (Besen's book is available in the special hard binding required by most libraries) I hope other gay activists will do the same. We should all start spreading Besen's book like Gideon Bibles. (I do not know Besen and I am not receiving any money or other compensation for saying this)

I have also noticed that the mainstream newspapers outside of large cities are increasingly pandering to their conservative and aging readers by publishing news articles biased against gay rights and overtly bigoted anti-gay letters to the editor. Most of these newspapers were formerly locally owned family operations that religiously avoided such controversy. But large corporations, who also own the right wing local radio, TV and cable systems, now own them.
Wayne Besen wrote Anything But Straight, exposing the ex-gay movement

For example, Regina Griggs, executive director of "Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays" http://www.pfox.org has succeeded in getting published several letters to the editor that promoted ex-gay ideology in my local newspapers, including the daily newspapers of two large state universities. PFOX appears to be conducting a letter writing campaign.

Ominously, I was unable to get a rebuttal letter published in any local newspaper despite personally contacting the editors and explaining to them the falsehoods they had published. Curiously, all of these newspapers have policies that favor letters on local topics from local readers. Despite this and the fact that Griggs lives 3000 miles away, they printed her ex-gay letters.

Oddly, these same editors regularly publish letters favorable to gay rights. But they refused to publish a letter debunking ex-gay dogma. I heard two excuses from editors as follows:

First, one editor acted embarrassed that she had accidentally published an ex-gay letter that violated her policy against promoting a private organization. She claimed it would compound her mistake by publishing my rebuttal letter even though my letter did not violate her letter policy.

The second reaction was more troubling when the editor claimed he was being "fair and balanced." But when I challenged him to publish my rebuttal letter, he magically became "unfair and unbalanced." The editor was honest enough to admit that he had seen a presentation at his church about ex-gays and he sincerely believed ex-gay therapy was based on science. I guess he thought that my letter was not based on science.

This prompted me to visit local churches in person. In each case, I asked the residing cleric if there was any hope that my homosexual son could lead a heterosexual lifestyle. I was surprised that every cleric, except for a Unitarian minister, happily gave me printed ex-gay literature or web links to "hope for homosexuals." Only the Unitarian minister correctly encouraged me to contact the local gay-friendly PFLAG chapter.

Even worse, the LDS Mormons, Baptists and Orthodox Jews were actively hosting ex-gay groups and they welcomed me to attend a meeting. When I asked why I hadn't heard about these groups before, I was told that they were keeping a low profile to avoid "problems" with "homosexual political activists" disrupting their meetings. (Was this a dare to do it?)

Maybe my sample is skewed, but I was shocked to find so much "ex-gay" activity in my very liberal small town. I assume that the conservative rural churches surrounding my town would have even more ex-gay programs.

Tragically, if what I saw truly reflects reality, then nearly everybody attending church in my area is being exposed to the idea that sexual orientation is something that can be solved with prayer. In this case, the only prayer gay people have is for the continued decline in church attendance and newspaper circulation.

Besen calls on gay people to stand up and fight the cultural war being waged against us. His call to action in the book includes controversial covert operations, which some people believe are unethical. I have no ethical qualms about monitoring ex-gay groups.

Gay activist the Rev. Mel White says the Movement must be cautious how it attacks ex-gays Rev. Mel White, in the forward to Besen's book, expresses another concern with how Besen portrayed the villains of the ex-gay movement. In my view, Besen's book is properly fighting fire with fire. I live near a state forest where firefighters will sometimes intentionally start a "backfire" to stop an advancing forest fire. I think Rev. White recognizes that backfires cause damage even when they work. Backfires must be used with caution.

One forest fire that has been started by ex-gay groups concerns gay bareback sex and AIDS. The mythology of gay bareback sex (anal sex without a condom) has become fodder for anti-gay groups and sensationalistic tabloid media stories. (See GayToday: Rolling Stone Article Slanders 25% of HIV-Positive Gay Men, http://www.gaytoday.com/events/012703ev.asp )

For example, Paul Cameron's pseudo-scholarly anti-gay propaganda papers continue to be widely distributed by religious-political groups. Cameron tries to agitate homophobic disgust by dwelling on how gay bareback sex mixes lube, spit, semen and fecal matter in the rectum. In response, advice columnist Dan Savage has humorously named this frothy mixture "santorum" in honor of the homophobic U.S. Senator Rick Santorum who publicly opposed the legalization of sodomy. (See Paul Cameron, "Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do," http://www.biblebelievers.com/Cameron2.html and Dan Savage, "Frothy Mix," http://www.thestranger.com/2003-08-28/savage.html plus "The Spread of Santorum," http://www.thestranger.com/2003-10-23/savage.html )

Dan Savage According to Besen, Cameron also said homosexuality was too powerful to resist because he had "heard" that men do a better job on other men. (Besen's source for this quote, endnote 48 on p. 116, is missing on p. 285) Interestingly, Dr. George Weinberg described this type of homophobia in his 1972 book. (See Society and the Healthy Homosexual, http://gaytoday.com/reviews/111003re.asp )

Shortly after Besen's book was written, Besen issued a press release that accused ex-gay leaders of concealing the downfall of "ex-gay" poster boy Michael Johnston who allegedly engaged in unsafe sex. Besen is ironically fighting fire with fire by smearing ex-gays for being irresponsible bareback bug chasers. (Wayne Besen, "Author calls on Rev. Jerry Falwell and other right wing leaders to apologize for concealing major 'ex-gay' scandal," http://www.anythingbutstraight.com/news/pr8-6-03.html August 6, 2003)

Similar to Besen's press release, ex-gay supporters are smearing gay men for secretly spreading HIV like gift giving vampires. A September 25, 2003 article "H.I.V. Secrecy is Proving Deadly" in The New York Times quoted research by ethicist Dr. Ronald Bayer that said gay men were lying about their HIV status and intentionally infecting others. (See http://www.advocate.com/print_article.asp?ID=10613&sd=11/27/03-12/01/03 and Bayer's site http://www.bioethicscolumbia.org/bayer.html )

Coincidentally, Dr. Ronald Bayer is one of the darlings of ex-gay groups since his 1981 book was cited in the U.S. Supreme Court case about Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2. Bayer's book was used to prove that gay lobbyists had hoodwinked American psychiatrists when they removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders and that psychiatrists have wanted to reverse the decision ever since then. (Simon LeVay, "Queer Science," MIT Press, 1996, pp. 245-246)

The mythology of gay men intentionally infecting others with HIV tainted blood is closely related to ancient vampire folklore. The satirical comic zine "He Is a Vampire After Infection Descends Slowly (H.I.V.A.I.D.S.)" was published by http://www.homoeroticon.com circa 1999. (A scanned copy is available at http://members.tripod.com/~homoeroticon/hauntspage1.html )

More than one gay writer has noted the connection between gays and vampires. (See Jesse Monteagudo, Monsters in the Closet, http://gaytoday.com/garchive/reviews/032398re.htm March 23, 1998; Harmony H. Wu, Vampires and Violets, http://www.gaytoday.com/reviews/102802re.asp 10/28/03; Also, Dave Doyle's excellent queer vampire site http://www.queerhorror.com )

There has also been a flurry of news reports that said some gay men are "hard-wired" for bareback sex. (See Marilyn Elias, "Study: Some men may be hard-wired for unsafe sex," USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-10-27-sex-study_x.htm October 27, 2003 and the November 7-9, 2003 USA Weekend, which is inserted in local Sunday newspapers nationwide)

Suspiciously, the principal researcher for this study is Dr. John Bancroft. He has been the director of the world famous Alfred Kinsey Institute http://kinseyinstitute.org since 1995. His pending retirement was announced in 2003. A quick check of his "Curriculum Vitae" http://www.indiana.edu/~kinsey/about/bancroft-cv.html confirms that he is the same Dr. Bancroft who did electrical shock aversion therapy on homosexual men to cure them. (For example see, John Bancroft (1969) "Aversion therapy of homosexuality," British Journal of Psychiatry, 115:1417-1431. In Bancroft's 1974 book, Deviant Sexual Behaviour: Modification & Assessment, Oxford University, he continued to defend such therapies.)

To be fair, I could not find any recent paper of Bancroft's that reiterated his desire to change gay men's sexual orientation. But does he have a hidden agenda when he tells the press that some gay men are hard-wired for unsafe sex?

The misuse of "scientific research" to surreptitiously bash gays is a growing problem. Anti-gay Christian fundamentalist groups have been lavishly funding "scientists" to write papers that support their anti-gay religious beliefs. Fortunately, these "scientific" papers are usually rejected or they are only included in a special section on religion, but a few ex-gay papers have succeeded in polluting the scientific literature. (One example is discussed in Something is Queer about Psychology Today http://gaytoday.com/penpoints/110402pp.asp and Psychology Today Promotes Queer Alien Sex and Ex-Gays http://gaytoday.com/viewpoint/050503vp.asp )

Unfortunately, ex-gay advocates are dishonestly using the honest provisos of legitimate scientists, such as Simon LeVay, to attack gay people. While LeVay freely admits to the limitations of his sexual orientation research, ex-gay researchers obfuscate their own problems.

For example, Besen carefully points out the problems with an ex-gay study presented at a psychiatrists' meeting by Dr. Robert Spitzer that claimed some ex-gays were happy and had successfully changed their sexual orientation. Despite the study's obvious flaws, Spitzer has now succeeded publishing it in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, October 2003, pp. 403-417. (For a biased but revealing summary by an ex-gay advocacy web site see, Spitzer Study Just Published, http://www.narth.com/docs/evidencefound.html )

Likewise, a special section of articles in the January 2003 issue of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy examined the subject of psychotherapy for clients seeking to develop their "heterosexual potential," which is a new euphemism for changing from gay to straight. (For a biased summary see, Sexual-Reorientation Treatment Supported in 'Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,' http://www.narth.com/docs/jmft.html )

Besen's rebuttal of Spitzer's study included many common sense suggestions. He also challenged Spitzer to use a penile plethysmograph (an instrument that measures the size and duration of erections caused by various stimulus) and a lie detector to see if ex-gays really have changed. Besen's challenge is amusing given that these "peter meter" instruments have historically been used to oppress homosexuals as part of aversion therapy. However, his suggestion would be problematic.

Nobody can reliably detect an individual's sexual orientation according to the numerous scientific papers on penile plethysmography. All statistically valid methods are only able to detect differences between large groups of people. So far, the best test they use for detecting a heterosexual man is to see if he gets erect while watching lesbian sex. But many men do not respond enough to reliably determine their sexual orientation.

A bigger problem, which Besen never mentioned in his book, is that virtually all psychotherapists, not just ex-gay ones, refuse to use any scientific method for measuring the effectiveness of their therapies. They think scientific methods are unusable with psychotherapy.

However, conventional medical doctor psychiatrists regularly do scientific studies to compare the effectiveness of drug therapies with various other therapies such as cognitive "talk" therapy. This shows that scientific methods can be used to determine the effectiveness of a psychological treatment.

I challenge ex-gay therapists to follow the scientific tradition of testing their own medicine first. If they want to prove that their sexual orientation therapy works, then they should change themselves from being straight to gay for a year, and then change back. So far, nobody has accepted my challenge.

Besen bends over backward to give Dr. Spitzer the benefit of the doubt. But in doing so, he unintentionally reinforces a myth being spread by ex-gay organizations that Dr. Spitzer changed his mind about homosexuality and is a hero of the gay community for "leading" the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illness disorders.

While the facts in Besen's book are both accurate and damning to Spitzer, readers may be misled about the myth of Spitzer's "leadership" because the chapter on Dr. Spitzer. (pp. 227-241, "Political Science") is nearly 100 pages after where Besen correctly stated, "Dr. Judd Marmor led the fight for the change." (p. 131) Spitzer was only the meeting chairman.

In fact, Spitzer never changed his mind about providing treatment for homosexuals who want to become straight. His 1973 position paper successfully argued to create a new psychiatric disorder for those disturbed by their homosexuality. Besen does not mention this very important paper by Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., "A Proposal About Homosexuality and the APA Nomenclature: Homosexuality as an Irregular Form of Sexual Behavior and Sexual Orientation Disturbance as a Psychiatric Disorder," American Journal of Psychiatry (1973) 130:11, pp. 1214-1216.

The mental disorder that Spitzer successfully argued to create in 1973 for treating homosexuality is important because similar categories still remain in the current list of mental disorders. (e.g. sexual disorder [homosexual], identity disorder and gender identity disorder) Ex-gay therapists regularly misuse these disorders to bill medical insurance for ex-gay conversion therapy. To allow these charlatan treatments hurts everybody because many insurance plans deny coverage to even genuine mental illnesses so they don't have to pay for these types of bogus treatments.

The gender identity disorder is especially troubling because it is being misused to coerce effeminate boys and masculine girls into ex-gay therapy at younger and younger ages. Besen sees this as a major concern. (See A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality http://gaytoday.com/reviews/122302re.asp"> )

Besen's book claims that Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper coined the term "ex-gay" circa 1976 when they started EXIT (Ex-Gay Intervention Team). (p. 86) Besen doesn't mention it in his book, but the first publication of the term "ex-gay" in a mainstream medical journal was in 1980. (E. Mansell Pattison, M.D., Myrna Loy Pattison, "'Ex-gay': Religiously Mediated Change in Homosexuals," in the "Special Section: The Modern Religious Experience and Psychiatry," American Journal of Psychiatry (1980) 137:12, pp. 1550-1562, and rebuttals in "Letters to the Editor," Am J Psychiatry (1981) 138:6, pp. 852-853)

Even though the above ex-gay paper was just part of a special section on religion, it is frequently quoted out of context as being medical validation of ex-gay therapies. This ex-gay paper was subtly biased. For example, it smeared Dr. George Weinberg's 1972 book by associating it with the "gay liberation movement." (See Society and the Healthy Homosexual, http://gaytoday.com/reviews/111003re.asp )

One ex-gay group described in this paper was "a religious hotline crisis program sponsored by a Pentecostal church that offered lay crisis services to homosexuals. . . The term 'ex-gay' had been deliberately selected by them to denote an ideological position in opposition to 'gay liberation.' This change was said to have occurred in the context of the church fellowship and without psychotherapy. . ." Unfortunately, the paper did not name this ex-gay group.

While the word "ex-gay" was probably coined circa 1976, the origin of faith-based ex-gay groups is less clear. Both Besen's book and most ex-gay groups credit "Love In Action," formed in 1973, as being the first ex-gay group. (p.63) I have some doubts about this claim.

For instance, Dr. George Weinberg's 1972 book (p. 58) mentioned that there is "a new organization called 'Homosexuals Anonymous.' 'Cured' homosexuals will meet in groups a few times a week. . . The psychologists in New York and Philadelphia who are just beginning to assemble these groups. . ." Weinberg compared it to the Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which are traditionally faith-based as are most ex-gay groups.

Given Weinberg's book was written in 1971, it is clear that this "Homosexuals Anonymous" group predated "Love in Action" by two years. I assume this group is different from the "Homosexual Anonymous" group that Besen says Colin Cook founded in 1979. (p. 94)
Dr. George Weinberg

In addition, religious organizations have a long tradition of "curing" the sin of homosexual behavior through prayer. A 1950's report by a group of Anglican clergy and doctors, which was privately circulated by a council of the Church of England, provides a clue to the existence of these traditional approaches.

The Anglican report recognized that homosexual acts, although a sin in the eyes of the Church, are not necessarily crimes to be punished by the state. The report objected to having secular laws against homosexual behavior because they gave homosexuals a "just grievance," which "aids him to ignore the moral issues of his act." (Karl M. Bowman, et al., "A Psychiatric Evaluation of Laws of Homosexuality," American Journal of Psychiatry, Feb. 1956, p. 571)

Historically, religious leaders retained total power over how the sin of homosexuality was treated. However, by the 1950's their power had been severely diminished by doctors who sought the exclusive power to treat homosexuality as a mental disorder and secular politicians who often won elections by periodically enforcing vice laws against homosexual "perverts" and prostitutes to look good.

One example of the power struggle between doctors and politicians appeared in a July 1955 American Journal of Psychiatry book review. (p. 78) The doctor writing the review said, "The single case of male homosexuality cured by psychoanalysis as reported by Wulff is hardly enough to convince a hard-bitten judge." He called for the publication of more successful cases to convince politicians that giving doctors jurisdiction over homosexuals was the compassionate thing to do.

I suspect that the concept of ex-gay groups is not new. Religious organizations have always been in the business of helping people overcome their "sins," which includes homosexuality. I am sure the methods used by ex-gay groups have been implemented before in other forms.

What has changed today is how ex-gay religious groups are being exploited for political gain. Furthermore, there is now a widespread recognition that sexual orientation is not a choice even if one can control his sexual behavior. Fortunately, the powers religion had over doctors and politicians have been diminished, which has allowed gay people to seek liberty and equality.

However, fundamentalist theocrats are not giving up their fight for power. Rev. Mel White mentioned in the introduction to Besen's book: "At this moment in time, the ex-gay movement is not simply a loving effort to help homosexuals 'overcome' their sexual 'sin.' It has become a major political force in the fundamentalist takeover of the Christian churches in America." One recent example is the effort of fundamentalists to seize control of the Anglican Church by creating a schism over the consecration of a gay Episcopal bishop.

I am worried that the divisive agenda of fundamentalist theocrats will succeed because homophobia remains prevalent worldwide and many otherwise gay-friendly people will go along under the mistaken notion that they are being tolerant of different religious beliefs. However, respecting deeply held religious beliefs should not require voting for anti-gay laws and constitutional amendments.

Different religious beliefs can still be respected at the same time hypocrisy is being challenged. For example, the two thirds of Americans who want to "codify the sanctity of marriage" are hypocritical given that a majority of Americans have legalized cohabitation and fornication despite Biblical prohibitions.

Ex-gays may not matter, but their "culture war" does matter. We must defend ourselves against being annihilated by this "culture war."
For More ...
Related Stories
American Psychological Association Replies to the Ex-Gays

Ex-Gays and the Trials of Oscar Wilde

The Ex-Gay Files

Related Sites
Spreading Santorum

Spreading Santorum

The Ex-Gay Movement


Anything But Straight