And The World Will Know (near the center of the storm) Part I

According to some “therapists” (i.e. not therapists) in this country, the following dialogue is an appropriate and common exchange between heterosexual males:

“Hey bro! Get me another beer!”

“No problem, man. Hey, how about after the game we get naked and cuddle each other?”

“Hell yeah! That’s the best way to express my hetronormative sexuality! Then I’ll go home and bang my girlfriend!”

If this logic sounds unbelievably stupid, that is because it is. Even so, there are many organizations who consider these ridiculous ideas legitimate actions to help a person rid himself of unwanted homosexual feelings.

This is but a small part of a warped idea called “conversion therapy”, an unregulated, fradulent practice that has gone on for decades and cost people thousands of dollars, countless hours of life and unnecessary trama. This country is about to get an important education in this infuriating, fraudulent “therapy.” And I find myself very near the center of it. 

The love of my life, Michael Ferguson, and I were in New York City in November because Michael is one of the plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit against a group called JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality.

A few years ago Michael lived in New York City during a time in his life when he was struggling to reconcile his faith with this sexuality. He, like so many others, had been taught that homosexuality was a terrible sin, but that sexual orientation was also changeable. More than anything he wanted to be heterosexual so he could fit in to his Mormon culture and remain on his Mormon life trajectory. There are those who when confronted with the conflict between their sexuality and religion are desperate to change their sexual orientation and will try anything, including seeking help from unlicensed “therapists” who claim they have a method to rewire a persons biology to make them straight. (Side note, this therapy is only a one way street. There is no therapy offered to make someone gay.) He found JONAH and other organizations that all made claims their “therapy” could cure him. They affirmed that their practices were based on sound scientific research and that hundreds of men had changed their orientation and were now heterosexual. In exchange for his money, $100 a week for individual sessions or $60 for group sessions, JONAH claimed Michael could become straight, too.

He believed them. He trusted them. He did what they told him was necessary to undo the damage his parents had inflicted on him and thus resulted in his homosexual feelings. And he paid them a lot of money.

Last year when Michael told me about the things he went through, like being told to take his clothes off in front of his counselor or going on expensive weekend retreats where he beat effigies of his mother, I felt my heart break. We were sitting in my apartment in Phoenix and when I caught my breath I asked, “That happened to you?” I couldn’t imagine his sweet, tender, beautiful soul subjected to such torture and humiliation. I hugged him and vowed that no one would ever do that to him again because I turn into Lunatic Queen Bitch when someone tries to hurt my man.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center website:

The lawsuit describes sessions that involved clients undressing in front of a mirror and even a group session where young men were instructed to remove their clothing and stand naked in a circle with the counselor, Downing, who was also undressed. Another session involved a subject attempting to wrestle away two oranges – used to represent testicles – from another individual.

Downing and other JONAH counselors also used techniques that left clients alienated from their families. These techniques encouraged clients to blame their parents for being gay, going so far as to have clients participate in violent role play exercises where they beat effigies of their mothers.

At the press conference, reporters gasped when Michael talked about his experience.

A video from the press conference can be seen here.

Once the lawsuit was filed, the news spread like wildfire. The Facebook newsfeed starting filling up with stories about the case and the press conference, stories from the BBC and even Australia. We left to the airport a few hours after the press conference to fly back to Salt Lake but when we arrived at JFK, we got a call to come back into the city because the Anderson Cooper show wanted to interview Michael. So back we went to the CNN Studios where Michael was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer.

The next day a story ran in the New York Times.

Then a few weeks later a clip of Michael speaking at the press conference was on the Colbert Report

 

I’m only reporting on the events as I experienced them. The story of the atrocities of conversion therapy is not mine to tell because I never suffered through it. But my partner did. He needed me by his side as he shared his story in the most public way possible. I’m happy to stand by him and be his support as long as he needs me to be.

This case is far from over and I will continue to write about developments as they happen.

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3 Comments
  • Michael Beaucontichello
    February 8, 2013

    Seth, thank you for sharing this story. I can never imagine the difficulty of having to publicly share such intimate and painful details of an experience of humiliation and degrading treatment as I have just learned. My heart goes out to Michael for being so very brave to facing this head on regardless of what people may say. And for those that do not support you both, to hell with them no matter blood related or not.

    If takes a great person such as yourself to be so strong and stand by Michael in his time of a great difficult time when he needs someone most on his side. The power of your love for one another is contagious to all that stand in your presence.

    You and Michael are a single pillar of strength and leadership with one heartbeat for the people in the community not only where you live but throughout the world wherever you travel.

    I have some insight of the humiliation for what Michael has gone through. I was sent to a psychiatrist when I was 17. After almost 45 minutes of him babbling he then asked me; “So what is your problem”. Right then I knew I was being treated by an idiot and I was not the one with the problem, it was my mother. I had been though therapy for years and even gone to a hypnotist to “Cure” me of my gayness just as one quits smoking.

    You are in my prayers this suit will be over soon. Bless you both.

    Michael

  • Dean
    February 8, 2013

    You are both in my prayers, as are the other plaintiffs and their loved ones. I expect the case may take a while. Best wishes on enduring to the end in a different context from what we usually hear.

  • Neal
    February 9, 2013

    Horrendous! Makes me shudder just thinking about it.

    All of you who are involved in this law suit have tremendous courage and my utmost respect. I cannot imagine enduring what is surely to be a painful re-living and re-telling. Hope Michael and the other plaintiffs nail those bastards to the wall!

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