NPR’s Foxification of Ex-Gay Rhetoric

Michele and Marcus Backmann

Michele and Marcus Backmann

If it were Fox News I wouldn’t have flinched. But it was National Public Radio.

To my surprise, I didn’t know, especially in 2011, my sexual orientation was still up for debate. But on August 1 on the “Morning Edition” of National Public Radio (NPR) it was. The topic on the show that morning was “Can Therapy Help Change Sexual Orientation?

“Today in Your Health, a controversy that is both political and personal. Conversion therapy is psychotherapy which aims to help gay men and women become straight. It’s hardly new, but it’s in the news again because the mental health clinic run by the husband of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann reportedly provides such therapy,” Renee Montagne, host of “Morning Edition” stated.

My head spins at the thought of how Christian counseling services, like Dr. Marcus Bachmann’s, still get so much air time, especially, in spite of the voluminous information disputing the pseudo-science of “ex-gay” conversion therapies.

Just three years ago, the American Psychological Association put out an official position paper stating “The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation.”

The negative health outcomes both emotional and psychological these “conversion” programs exact are untold, like depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of intimacy, loss of faith and spirituality, and the reinforcement of internalized homophobia and self-hatred, to name a few.

“It took really hard work to get my brain back and to recover from the emotional and psychological damage that I had experienced under that care,” Peterson Toscano, a theatrical performance activist, stated on NPR. Toscano spent 17 years in conversion therapies and faith-based ex-gay programs. Today he’s the co-founder of “Beyond Ex-Gay,” an online community to help ex-gay survivors.

However, there are still groups, usually motivated by religion-based homophobic therapies and ministries like Bachman’s, who are hell-bent on the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans can and should be made straight.

And these groups proselytize ex-gay rhetoric as both their Christian and patriotic duty.

For example, “Pray the Gay Away?,” on an episode of the television series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” that aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network on March 8th of this year, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, an ex-gay organization, spoke about his sure-fire remedy for us LGBTQ “prodigal” children, and how his organization can help us reconcile our faith, mend our sinful lives ,and finally walk away from our supposedly wrong-headed “lifestyle” choice.

There are hordes of supposedly ex-gay “converts” who’ll be poster children for these conversion therapies. But truth be told, their conversions from being “homosexual” to “heterosexual” didn’t “cure” their homosexual predilections, but rather these therapies attempted to put LGBTQ people on the road to outwardly live a straight life.

“It meant probably walking away from my religion, not having the wife and children of my future that I would expect, lots of shame and conflict with family and others. It was just devastating to contemplate.” Rich Wyler, who grew up in a Christian conservative family, stated on NPR.

But, the truth is that these “ex-gay” reparative therapies don’t’ work, have a failure rate of 90 percent, and several “ex-gay” groups over the years have had to shut down when their leaders finally dealt with the reality of their own homosexuality.

Case in point: John Paulk, “ex-gay” poster boy, who appeared in HRC’s 2000 photo album with a one-word caption: “Gotcha!”

Wayne Besen, then the associate director of communications of HRC, captured that Kodak moment as he snapped a picture of the then-37-year-old Paulk in a Washington D.C. gay bar. In the moment, pandemonium broke out in the bar, as the series of flashes from Besen’s camera were assumed by some to be those of a homophobe harassing a patron. But as Paulk hunched down trying to conceal his face, he learned that he could neither run nor hide. Paulk says he went into the bar just to use the bathroom – an unlikely story, as 40 minutes after entering the bar, he was still there, keeping company with both a drink and a fellow patron.

Paulk, a former drag queen known as Candi and a one-time first runner-up in the Miss Ingenue pageant, is presently married to a self-proclaimed former lesbian who also underwent counseling in an “ex-gay” ministry run by Exodus International. Today, they both don the drag of being heterosexually married. They prominently graced the cover of “Newsweek” in August 1998, appeared on “60 Minutes” and Oprah, and wrote the book that gave Focus on the Family its name for its “ex-gay” conferences: “Love Won Out,” a memoir depicting the Paulks’ flight from gayhood.

Rev. Irene Monroe“Conversion” therapies are a tool used by right-wing religious organizations to raise money and advocate against LGBTQ civil rights. With this money, these organizations are able to produce politically and religiously Biased Agenda-Driven (aptly abbreviated as “B.A.D.”) science like “reparative therapies,” attempting to justify them by presenting LGBTQ people as genetically flawed – a charge eerily reminiscent of the scientific racism and sexism that once undergirded treatment of blacks and women morally inferior due to supposed genetic flaws.

Fox News is no friend to the LGBTQ community. But now I’m wondering about NPR.

Rev. Irene Monroe

Published by the LA Progressive on August 6, 2011
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About Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.

Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”