(VIDEO) “Ex-Gay” Movement Inflames Homophobia Here and Abroad

Amanda Marcotte

The "ex-gay" movement is inflaming homophobia here and abroad by suggesting that innate sexual orientations actually are psychological disorders that can be treated.

For those who watched Rachel
Maddow squaring off against Richard Cohen
about “ex-gay therapy,” it was
like watching a tiger take on a tweetie bird, except in this case the tweetie
bird is a dangerous force against human rights and really deserved to be
swallowed whole.  Usually, Maddow
probably wouldn’t even bother with anyone from the vanishingly small and
strange “ex-gay” community, but in this case, she had a very good reason to
confront Cohen, who claims that he can change people from gay to straight
(though I’ve not seen any real evidence for his claims that he’s genuinely
changed “thousands”). Cohen’s claim that being gay is a choice and that you can
will yourself straight is being used by reactionary forces in Uganda that are
pushing for severe sodomy laws that could include
the death penalty for same-sex sexual relations.
  In the process of interviewing Cohen, Maddow gave America a
taste of how bizarre the world of “ex-gay therapy” really is.

Cohen condemned the Ugandan bill on Maddow’s show, but if
you watch the interview, his condemnations feel a bit empty because he’s a
slippery fellow.  He claims one
minute that being gay is a choice, and then flips around and denies that he
ever said that.  He tries to
pretend that his therapy isn’t promoting anti-gay bigotry, but Maddow exposes
how much vicious slander against gay people he includes in his book.  (The claims that
the "error" will come out of the "next" edition are a
popular right wing tactic;
there is no reason to think that there will be a
second edition.)  But the most
ludicrous claim he makes is that the “ex-gay” movement isn’t a political
movement, when it obviously exists for no other reason than to give the larger
anti-gay political forces out there rationalizations for pushing bigoted

Even Cohen couldn’t feign surprise at the videos
demonstrating that anti-gay activists in Uganda are using his book to
rationalize their hatred.  This is
just an expansion of the purpose of the ex-gay movement in the United States. Right wing
activists realized a long time ago that American opinions on homosexuality are
being positively influenced by the perception (correct perception) that
homosexuality is an innate tendency, and that it’s a natural variation in
innate tendencies in humans in the same way that left-handedness is just as
natural as right-handedness. “Ex-gay therapy” exists strictly to undermine the
growing tolerance of homosexuality, and I think we all know that if the right
was able to chase most gay people back into the closet and recriminalize
sodomy, then “ex-gay therapy” would cease to exist because it wouldn’t be
politically necessary.

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The tiny numbers of “ex-gays” in existence only reinforces
the argument that the entire movement exists to give homobigots cover. As
Amanda Hess discovered,
the leading ex-gay organization PFOX (Parents and
Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays) is having a really hard time getting ex-gays on
its board; and if they can’t scrounge up more than two, then good luck to the
rest of us.  That an organization
for parents and so-called friends is the leader in this movement tells you what
you need to know, as well—this is about creating the necessary appearances to
provide political cover.

But elusive as actual ex-gay people may be, they are the
only minority group whose rights the right has much interest in
protecting.  The latest tactic of
the ex-gay movement—chosen no doubt because they thought they didn’t come
across as weird enough by promoting “treatment” for homosexuality
such as platonic same-sex cuddling and “prevention” such as impressing
upon your small son how huge your penis looks  compared to his
—is to claim that ex-gays, aka people
who live as straight, face some sort of horrible discrimination and that the
ex-gay movement is merely here to protect their rights.  In service of this claim, they’ve
mysteriously started
to become the incredibly frequent victims of hate crimes that have no witnesses
.  In fact, the head of Truth Wins Out, an
organization dedicated to exposing ex-gay therapy as a fraud, has taken to
counseling gay rights activists to avoid being near ex-gays to protect
themselves from these accusations. 
Cohen himself claims to be the victim of a “hate crime."  What is this crime? His expulsion from the American Counseling Association for–you
guessed it–exploiting
his clients for personal and political gain.
  Conservatives often accuse liberals of inventing oppression
for self-aggrandizing purposes, but it seems that the ex-gay movement actually
had decided to do what they’ve forever accused others of doing.

Cohen claims that “ex-gay therapy” is about helping people
and has nothing to do with promoting anti-gay bigotry at all.  This claim couldn’t be more farcical on
its surface—after all, when you hold homosexuality out as a disease to be
cured, then you are promoting homophobia. 
We don’t cure things that aren’t diseases. Every respectable
organization in psychology
is on record pointing out that the claims made
by Cohen and the ex-gay movement have the strong potential to seriously hurt
gay people who are struggling with self-acceptance; no one who actually wants
to help people would subject them to this sort of abusive degradation. Genuine
help for gay people struggling in this way would look exactly like helping them
accept themselves for who they are, and realize that there’s nothing wrong with
being gay.   And contrary to
Cohen’s claims that “ex-gay therapy” merely exists for people making a free,
uncoerced choice to “change” their sexual orientation, the ex-gay movement is actually
focusing much of its attention on young people who are being
forced by their homophobic parents into "therapy" that is
indistinguishable from punishment

Eighteen minutes on the Rachel Maddow show merely gave us a
taste of the strange world of “ex-gay therapy”, and the whole story gets
weirder the more you dig in.  The
supposed movement seems to be nothing but smoke and mirrors designed to make
anti-gay forces look a little less evil, but even a cursory amount of research
shows that it’s mostly a bunch of straight people and a couple of charlatans
who are convinced by a fat payday to stay in the closet.    

Topics and Tags:

ex-gay, ex-gay therapy, Gay, LGBT, Richard Cohen

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