Commentary Politics

Does Marcus Bachmann’s Clinic Try to Change Its Clients’ Sexual Orientation?; His Wife Won’t Answer

Martha Kempner

A number of recent articles have called into question the practices at Bachmann & Associates, the clinic run by the husband of Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann. Yet the congresswoman refuses to answer as to whether her husband practices conversion therapy. 

Michele Bachmann’s views on homosexuality (or should I say, against homosexuality) are pretty well documented at this point. The Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential hopeful has referred to homosexuality as a “sexual dysfunction,” likened teaching about it in schools to “child abuse,” and said that same-sex marriage is one of the most important and potentially devastating issues of our time. When she was serving as a state senator she explained, “… This is an earthquake issue. This will change our state forever. Because the immediate consequence, if gay marriage goes through, is that K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it.”

In recent weeks, however, she’s been questioned more on her husband’s views on the subject than her own. Marcus Bachmann, her husband of over 30 years, has a PhD in clinical psychology and owns two Christian counseling centers in Minnesota. According to an article in the Nation, Bachmann & Associates practices reparative therapy or, in other words, attempts to change the sexual orientation of gay clients.  Marcus Bachmann has denied that this is the clinic’s focus: “If someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay a homosexual, I don’t have a problem with that.” Nonetheless, the Nation article quotes some of the clinic’s clients who say that their therapists worked hard to try and “cure” them. 

One client said that his therapist “made it clear that renouncing his sexual orientation was the only moral choice. ‘He basically said being gay was not an acceptable lifestyle in God’s eyes.”’ The client claims that he was urged “to pray and read the Bible, particularly verses that cast homosexuality as an abomination.'”

The article also quotes a Minneapolis-based marketer who claims he was in attendance at the 2005 Minnesota Pastors’ Summit and heard Marcus Bachmann give a presentation called “The Truth About the Homosexual Agenda.” According to this attendee, Bachmann said that in his professional opinion same-sex attraction was “an affliction that could be rooted out.” Bachmann then introduced Janet Boynes, a long-time friend of his (and his wife’s) who claims “she broke free of the ‘lesbian lifestyle’ after an encounter with a Christian woman in a grocery store parking lot set her on the path to salvation.” Boynes told her story while Bachmann showed before and after photos of her —“a dour masculine-looking woman with cropped hair, followed by a smiling paragon of femininity.”  The attendee recalls that, upon seeing these photos, the crowd went wild.  

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Such views of the problem and the cure are common in reparative therapy also known as conversion therapy. In a story that ran on National Public Radio, Peterson Toscano recounted his experiences in a Christian-focused, in-patient program. In addition to activities designed to make patients more masculine (such as playing football and learning to change the oil in a car), the therapists had them write detailed descriptions of every sexual encounter they had ever had. They were then told to choose the most humiliating one and share it during a friends and family event. According to Toscano, the stated purpose of this was to help patients get beyond their shame. Instead, he says it just made it worse and made his parents feel shame as well.  (The NPR story also featured an interview with Rich Wyler who attended a similar program and believes that it successfully changed his sexual orientation.) 

In 2005, a Tennessee teenager made national headlines when he posted some of his experiences in a reparative therapy camp to his My Space page.  Then 16-years-old, Zach Stark reported that his parents made him apply to Refuge, a fundamentalist Christian program which “exists to be a Christ-centered ministry for the prevention or remediation of unhealthy and destructive behaviors facing families, adults, and adolescents.” Stark also posted a confidential email from Refuge to his parents, which explained the program’s strict rules including “lengthy sessions of solitary confinement, isolation, and extreme restrictions of attire, correspondence, and privacy sanctioned by biblical quotations.”

Refuge is a subsidiary of Love in Action International which is itself an affiliate of Exodus International, the most prominent organization in the “ex-gay” movement. After recent criticism regarding its i-Phone App, Exodus claims it does not try to “cure” anyone of homosexuality: “that is not within our ability and certainly beyond the ability of our iPhone application.”  Still, the organization explains:

“Choosing to resolve these tendencies through homosexual behavior, taking on a homosexual identity, and involvement in a homosexual lifestyle is considered destructive, as it distorts God’s intent for the individual and is therefore sinful. Instead, Christ offers a healing alternative to those with homosexual tendencies.”   

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association (APA) pulled together a panel to review the available research on this topic which it refers to as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). The panel concluded:

“There are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE do or do not work to change a person’s sexual orientation. Scientifically rigorous older work in this area found that sexual orientation (i.e., erotic attractions and sexual arousal oriented to one sex or the other, or both) was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose.”

It went on to say:

“Although sound data on the safety of SOCE are extremely limited, some individuals reported being harmed by SOCE. Distress and depression were exacerbated.”

For these and other reasons, the APA adopted a resolution explicitly opposing conversion therapy.

Despite this, organizations like Exodus International continue to advocate for reparative therapy and many still practice it.  At press events this weekend, Michelle Bachmann refused to whether her husband’s clinic was among those.  When questioned about the clinic, the Congresswoman said only:

“I’m extremely proud of my husband. I have tremendous respect and admiration for him. I am running for the presidency of the United States. My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children. And I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for presidency of the United States.”

I have mixed feeling about this statement. Mostly, I have a visceral reaction whenever politicians flat out refuse to answer questions. That said, I agree that candidates should not be held responsible for the behavior of their friends and relatives. Of course, I also believe it’s important to know the views of those who will be in an elected official’s inner circle.  Marcus Bachmann has been described as his wife’s “main political advisor” and as such his beliefs and practices are relevant in deciding whether to vote for her.

In this case, however, there is a much more pressing issue which instantly makes Marcus’s beliefs important; Bachmann & Associates has received $137,000 in Medicaid payments for its counseling services. The hypocrisy of Ms. Small-Government-We-Must-Cut-Entitlement-Programs directly profiting from Medicaid aside, as a tax-payer I want to know if my money is going to fund a form of therapy that is based entirely on religious beliefs, has no grounding in science, and has been deemed harmful.

What are the chances that Congresswoman Bachmann or her husband will ever actually answer that question?

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