The group sent a letter to all Virginia state colleges late last month threatening legal action, saying current resources discriminate against their faith by not providing supportive programs.
Christopher Doyle, co-founder and director of Voice of the Voiceless (VOV), went undercover with another ex-gay activist to see what services the LGBTQ departments at several Virginia universities would tell them when they asked about ex-gay treatment options.
“Myself and a colleague went into seven state-funded universities in Virginia presenting as a graduate student with unwanted same-sex attractions, meaning that we didn’t identify as LGBT,” said Doyle. “We were conflicted, unsure about our homosexual feelings, and we’re looking for specific referrals or options for individuals who did not wish to live a gay life or identify as gay but would rather pursue sexual orientation change over therapy or a helpful organization that would support us.”
The resulting conversation with school officials was not what Doyle and VOV wanted to hear. One counselor at George Mason University told him ex-gay therapy would cause him to “become psychologically-damaged, depressed, and even commit suicide.”
“What we found out was the LGBT resource centers and the multicultural centers, which are supposed to be places where students can go and get biased free and neutral counseling from counselors, were anything but that,” said Doyle. “They did not work with us on our goals, they did not provide us any resources.”
According to VOV, information provided by the schools was biased and their viewpoint’s were discriminatory. This led the group to seek legal aid from Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based non-profit litigation firm that advances “religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family,” according to its mission statement.
Doyle said Liberty Counsel “sent a letter to these universities saying that they’re engaging in viewpoint discrimination because as a public forum they have an obligation to present all views on sexuality and not just one view.”
Liberty Counsel is familiar with anti-gay litigation. They are representing Scott Lively, an American pastor charged with human rights violations for helping spur violent anti-gay sentiment in Africa.
The argument over ex-gay therapy is not a new one, and while there are a few supporters for the cause, a large group opposing the treatments also exist. One such opposition force is Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out (TWO) and a former member of the Human Rights Campaign.
Besen, who identifies as gay, has been on the forefront of the issue for years and he started TWO to fight religious extremism and the “ex-gay” movement at the national level. As a former investigative reporter, Besen uses his investigatory skills to “expose” anti-LGBT organizations.
But Doyle, who identifies as a former homosexual, said it was nine years ago when he experienced change and came out of his homosexuality, and he’s been on this crusade ever since.
“If I would’ve had a place to go 10 years ago or 11 years ago on my campus, that would have provided me some information on how to get help or support,” said Doyle. “That would’ve been extremely important and beneficial to me.”
According to Doyle, there is a segment of the population which only identifies as ex-gay and deserves to be offered resources and help from these universities, saying it was important to bring this matter up now because there is an opposing effort being made by gay activists to make this type of therapy illegal.
Doyle sees the same situation with his clients, and said that by working through their issues they can pursue and live heterosexual lives. He said the ethical way of counseling is listening to the client and helping them reach their goals and yet these university resources are imposing their values on their clients.
“Chris Doyle is out of his mind,” Besen said. “What you actually have these people doing is absurd.”
Besen calls ex-gay therapy “child abuse” saying there’s no reason for reputable establishments to offer it, and said he’s got the science behind him to prove it.
“The American Psychological Association (APA) says point-blank that attempts to change sexual orientation can cause anxiety, depression and self-destructive behavior,” Besen said about a resolution adopted by APA in 2009 which condemned ex-gay therapy.
In 2007, the APA created the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation to produce an updated report on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) that was released in 2009.
Judith Glassgold, Psy.D., was chair on the task force and explained that there is no evidence proving this type of therapy is successful.
“Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation,” Glassgold said in a press release APA put out after their findings. “Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions.”
Besen’s investigation into ex-gay therapy has lead him to discover what he describes as sordid pasts among the players behind the movement, including Richard Cohen, the founder of International Healing Foundation (IHF).
Both Doyle and Cohen are members of the IHF, whose “goal is to promote healthy individuals and relationships, while assisting in the healing of families, communities, and places of worship”.
Cohen, who also identifies as a former homosexual, was expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002 after they accused him of six violations of its ethics code.
“They keep saying that homosexuality is the result of abuse or neglect or bad parenting, and that’s just completely false,” Besen said. “Their cause and effects that they put out for homosexuality doesn’t exist but in their own minds.”
But Besen does agree with Doyle on one thing, albeit sarcastically: these universities are offering biased resources.
“It’s true,” Besen said. “The biased is towards science and from my experience that is what universities are supposed to follow. They’re supposed to follow what the medical experts’ say, not somebody with a political opinion that doesn’t exist in reality.”
Besen said these groups and religious extremists are demonizing LGBT people and what they’re promoting is degrading in nature to universities and their students. There is an overwhelming amount of people who try to change who they are because society makes them feel inferior and Doyle and VOV are exploiting those people for profit and notoriety, according to Besen.
Truth Wins Out has made a name for itself by performing operations in an attempt to discredit the ex-gay movement. TWO has gone on missions to expose ex-gay therapy treatments offered by Michelle Bachman’s husband, Marcus Bachman, at his Minnesota clinic and, in 2009, Besen exposed former Focus on the Family employee and ex-gay therapy advocate John Paulk at a gay club in Washington D.C.
Besen says he hopes the universities will recognize there is something wrong with Doyle’s message and wont give into VOV’s demands, including specific policy recommendations to these universities which include “sensitivity training in order to be able to distinguish a person who has unwanted same-sex attractions and a person who identifies as gay or lesbian”.
“The amount of ignorance among these resource centers, as to even knowing what the resources for persons like myself, or what is out there is inexcusable,” Doyle said. “They need to understand what the resources are and help students pursue those resources if that’s what they want.”
With the Oct. 25 deadline for a response to Liberty Counsel letter to Virginia universities quickly approaching, it remains to be seen what, if any action is taken.
“Just because you support ex-gays doesn’t mean you’re anti-gay,” Doyle said,wanting to make clear that it is possible to support both ex-gays’ and the LGBT community’s goals.
“Ex-gays aren’t necessarily trying to tear down the gay agenda, they just want to be able to tell their stories openly and help people like them.”