Utah groups continue to tout ‘ex-gay’ therapy

The leader of the largest “ex-gay” organization in the nation declared last month that there was no “cure” for homosexuality and that the group would stop its “reparative therapy” practice.

“Change is possible,” was the slogan on ads for Exodus International showing the group’s president, Alan Chambers alongside his wife, Leslie. Now, however, he says, “Exodus needs to move beyond that slogan.”

In several recent speeches, Chambers declared there was no cure for homosexuality and that “reparative therapy” offered false hope to gays and could even be harmful.

In Utah, however, two major groups continue to advocate its use.  Evergreen International and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality have representatives capitalizing on people who want to change their sexual orientation.

In addition to an annual conference in September that carries a $127 entrance fee, Evergreen has online mentoring ($50) and other regional meetings with the details of the place and time only disclosed to faithful members of the group. NARTH holds national conferences in Florida and Arizona semi-annually and operates a regional office for resources in Murray.

“We have various services for men, women and families,” said an Evergreen spokesperson that identified herself as Rachel. “The level of success in diminishing same-sex attraction varies with everyone. But we work on addressing peripheral concerns and we found that SSA seems to diminish as we line other aspects of our life up.”

Along with mixed assurances from the Mormon Church that eradicating gay feelings is possible, Evergreen touts the merits of a 2001 study by Robert Spitzer. The study found evidence that occasionally sexual orientation could be altered. The study is one of the largest pieces in the puzzle Evergreen uses so proudly to admonish gay people to try to stop feeling attracted to members of the same sex and eventually find peace in a heterosexual relationship.

But when Spitzer acknowledged the flaws in his own study, the reparative-therapy groups went into damage control.

“I felt that I needed to not only say that the study is not valid, but I thought I should also say to the gay community that I apologize for any harm I have done to them because of the study and my initial interpretation,” Spitzer said in a YouTube apology. “And I certainly apologize to any gay person who, because of this study, entered into reparative therapy and wasted their time and energy doing that.”

Rather than simply ignoring the study and relying on religion alone, Evergreen and NARTH are now claiming that Spitzer was forced into the apology.

“He’s getting older and he was pressured into apologizing by the study’s critics,” Rachel said. “We stand by its merits and still believe it supports Evergreen’s overall message.”

NARTH issued a statement that read: “Spitzer likely knows infinitely more gay and lesbian persons than he does individuals who report change in sexual orientation. This may have made it difficult for him to see that in trying to atone for the harm gay men and lesbians in his professional network claimed resulted from the study, he simultaneously caused harm to participants in his study who experienced change and now are told they were deceived or lying. All of this serves to underscore how personal and subjective the practice of social scientific discourse can be when the subject matter is entangled in a major sociopolitical debate.”

In attacking the gay community, NARTH and Evergreen are shifting blame for the retraction of the study to an easily identifiable and already vilified group. And reparative-therapy advocates in Utah don’t seem to be noticing a diminished attendance or number.

“NARTH can help people change orientation in a professional manner,” said the local NARTH representative.

Both the local NARTH organization and Evergreen refer members to David Matheson, a local therapist who touts his own supposed sexual orientation switch as evidence that his methods are successful. Both representatives sing Matheson’s praises and hold him in the highest regard. In fact, when asked for a second referral, none are offered.

Matheson has a two-month waiting list for hour-long appointments which cost $200 each and will be billed upon booking. Since he does not work with most major insurance providers, the cost comes out of the pocket of each individual or family. With weekly visits, the annual bill could be more than $10,000 for each patient.

“I know it works, I mean, I can’t say that you will always be able to completely diminish the SSA, but I know it got easier for me to ignore with time and Dr. Matheson can help,” Rachel said.

Evergreen is affiliated with the Mormon Church, although not officially endorsed. And while technically NARTH is not tied to Evergreen, Dave Pruden is vice president of operations for NARTH as well as executive director of Evergreen.

During the last Evergreen conference, Pruden rallied against the American Psychological Association, which insists homosexuality is a healthy expression of human sexuality. The APA, with more than 154,000 members, is the largest and most comprehensive group of psychologists worldwide. Pruden, on the other hand, has a degree in social work.

“Nobody is born with same-sex attraction,” Pruden said. “Same-gender attraction is not the same as homosexuality. Isolation from healthy same-sex relationships makes your unholy attractions more acute… The APA doesn’t get much right. (Homosexuality) is manageable and correctable. We know that for a fact.”

The APA and all other major medical organizations do not endorse any therapies or groups, such as Evergreen, that would suggest changing sexuality is possible, and it can even be detrimental to the mental health of the patient, said Jerry Buie, owner and director of Pride Counseling.

“I work a lot with gays and lesbians that have tried those therapies and my observation is that they are more severely and chronically depressed. They’re discouraged and often quite suicidal. The idea that their sexuality needs to change runs so deep, and these programs just reinforce that. Ultimately, it comes down to thinking if my sexual orientation doesn’t change, it’s because of my own lack of effort, which simply isn’t true,” Buie said.

For more information about Pride Counseling, a guild for affirming therapists, go to pridecounseling.tv.

Estimated annual cost for so-called reparative therapy

Semi-annual Evergreen conferences: $200
Evergreen membership and suggested donation: $100
Suggested literature: $130
Weekend ex-gay weekend: $650
David Matheson therapy sessions: $10,000

Total: $11,080

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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